What do we mean when we talk about ‘the self’? The Oxford English Dictionary charts the word’s known pedigree back more than a thousand years to Germanic roots. Four basic meanings emerge from several pages of usages and examples:
• the first indicates uniformity, as in the ‘self-same’, for example; • the second, and most common, refers to individuality or the essence of
a person or thing – herself, yourself, myself, itself, self-interest – simultaneously evoking consistency or ‘internal’ similarity over time and difference from external others;
• the third takes in introspection or reflexive action, as in ‘self-doubt’, ‘self-confidence’ and ‘self-consciousness’; and
• finally there is a sense of independence and autonomous agency, as in ‘self-improvement’, ‘self-propulsion’ and ‘she did it herself’.