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The self-titled album and other creative wonders

Some concise idioms built on the notion of 'self' may be a bit too concise for the Monitor’s language columnist.

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One of the things I enjoy about National Public Radio is that its music coverage introduces me to sounds I might not find my way to on my own. So it happened recently as I was driving around on an errand. I heard an interview with a couple of musicians who had just released a "self-titled" album. The album made up its own mind what it wanted to be called and just titled itself?

Well, no, that's not how that idiom works. A self-titled album is an album with the same name as the musician or the musical group performing on it. And see, that's why people say it that way: It's much more concise, with two words instead of 16.

A number of concise idioms involving the word self, though, may be just a bit too concise. Rather like self-storage, meaning storage where one stores things oneself; it's not storage of oneself. One can imagine that being a useful concept, though, on crowded aircraft with a lot of people with a lot of stuff: "Please ensure that your self is securely stowed for landing."

Such tightening (yes, it's confusing if you take it too literally, but doesn't everybody know what's meant?) is part of how language evolves. The term "elderly housing" once provoked chuckles or derision from those who thought "housing for the elderly" was the more appropriate term.

Does this "self-titling" thing show up in other forms of art? Did Charles Dickens ever write a book called "Charles Dickens"? No – although he did write "David Copperfield." When James Joyce wrote an autobiographical novel he called it "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," not "James Joyce."


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