"So I said to myself, 'Self...'"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Mon Sep 26 21:24:59 UTC 2005

There's a snowclone of sorts that's often used to indicate a jokey
interior monologue (or dialogue, actually): "So I said to myself,
'Self...'" Here are Googlecounts for some variations:

"so I said to myself, self"     1,480/493
"so I says to myself, self"     3,240/169
"so I say to myself, self"        996/114
"so I thought to myself, self"  1,850/223
"so I think to myself, self"      377/166
"so I asked myself, self"         495/147
"so I ask myself, self"           370/138

(For each search string I give two numbers: the raw Googlecount, and then
the count of what Google calls "the most relevant results" -- found by
appending "&start=950" to the end of the URL to see what's left after
Google has omitted "similar" entries.)

Any idea where this might have originated? It sounds a bit like something
an old comic (a Red Skelton or Jimmy Durante type) might say. But I can't
find any cites on the databases before the 1980s. Usenet has it from 1983:

net.singles, "living with a person on a non-schedule", Sep 6 1983
If it is a Saturday, though, I would say to myself, "Self, it will
undoubtedly be noisy, but it *is* Saturday, you can catch up on sleep

The snowclone may have been further popularized by a line in an episode of
_Buffy the Vampire Slayer_ ("Something Blue", Nov. 30, 1999):

Willow: Yeah.. I-I know I've been sort of a party-poop lately, so I said
to myself, "Self!" I said, "It's time to shake and shimmy it off."

I wonder if the origin is somehow related to this rhyme that appears in
_The Real Mother Goose_ by Blanche Fish Wright (1916):

As I walked by myself,
And talked to myself,
Myself said unto me,
Look to thyself,
Take care of thyself,
For nobody cares for thee.
I answered myself,
And said to myself,
In the self-same repartee,
Look to thyself,
Or not to thyself,
The self-same thing will be.

--Ben Zimmer

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