9

Selfsame word I know only from the X-Men comics, where it makes the sentences sound very stilted, which is perfect, since the user is the wacky alien Warlock.

Unfortunately self has no actual example of that (I know only that Warlock constantly is a 3rd person person), and this sentence is definitely ungrammatically.

Two questions: a) Is "selfsame" in wide colloquial use or does it sound stilted even if you are no wacky alien, b) if you have the comics, is it used with correct grammar there?

7
  • 5
    I think I've never heard a person say this word unless they were reading aloud to a class of literature students. Oct 17 at 17:01
  • 3
    @Jeffrey Carney: But speech is not the same as writing. Certainly my own written vocabulary (and I expect that of most educated people) is many times larger than what I'd use in ordinary speech.
    – jamesqf
    Oct 18 at 2:11
  • 2
    Anecdotally I've seen it written fairly commonly, and heard it spoken in formal settings. It's not a word I'd expect to hear in informal speech.
    – jla
    Oct 18 at 23:53
  • the selfsame was never common compared to the very same, as that NGram chart clearly shows. Obviously I'll have seen (and even sometimes heard) the less common version many times over a lifetime, but it's quite likely I've never actually said it myself (or written it, until composing that NGram query just now). Oct 19 at 11:01
  • Answerers might want to consider addressing whether the frequency of this word's usage varies by dialect/region, as well as the context/medium.
    – V2Blast
    Oct 19 at 15:53
17

Selfsame as in "the very same":

Here is the Wall Street Journal:

And that frustration must surely give way to hair-pulling apoplexy when those selfsame politicians helpfully suggest that central banks stop sitting on their printing presses and embark on the latest cruise ship-designated round of stimulus to help them out.

From an article published in The Wall Street Journal on August 16, 2011

It is still used in formal or journalistic or even literary writing.

Those selfsame politicians have been laboring long and hard in the basement of the capital building to come up with a plan to replace Obamacare.

in a blog published on March 8, 2017

I chose the word politicians as the term is easy to find associated with them.

And you can go to ludwig.guru and search for "those selfsame" and you will find many others in newspapers such as the New York Times and The Guardian:

One of the more baffling parts of the recent Viacom versus YouTube court revelations was the astonishing finding that executives from MTV and pals were ordering YouTube to take down videos that infringed its copyright - while their minions were simultaneously uploading those selfsame copies.

From an article published in The Guardian on March 30, 2010

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  • 2
    Self infers it can be used outside poetry to add a bit emphasis. (Or so I "feel" those examples.) Oct 18 at 7:41
  • 3
    @HaukeReddmann "infers" (schließen) is what a reader does. A word implies (implizieren). Oct 19 at 4:54
  • @Acccumulation: Forgive a German reader - now that you mention it, I remember that infer vs. imply is a "typical" error to avoid... Oct 19 at 7:28
  • 3
    “infer” vs “imply” aside, @HaukeReddmann is absolutely right here: while these quotes certainly show that selfsame is still used, they also nicely illustrate the fact that it’s mainly used for particularly strong rhetorical emphasis. So these quotes don’t contradict people’s claims that it’s not often used in casual speech or writing today.
    – PLL
    Oct 19 at 10:14
  • selfsame appears to be making a bit of a comeback since the 1980s. books.google.com/ngrams/… Oct 19 at 18:40
10

It is not widely used. In fact, the uses I have mostly seen are poetical:

Two doves upon the selfsame branch,

Self-same solitary figure, self-same seeking face.

A bird sings the selfsame song,

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

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  • 7
    It is pretty usual in news writing or magazine writing.
    – Lambie
    Oct 18 at 18:23
0

Selfsame was pretty common in natural informal speech in Northern England, used for emphasis where plain old "same" wouldn't do; e.g.

You'd get the selfsame spanner for half the price over the way.

You've written the selfsame words as your neighbour!

I was just telling her the selfsame thing (as you said).

As Oxford says, this is in current use, not uncommon.

-1

It would be strange to use this word in normal conversation. It has an 18th- or 19th-century flavor to it. (I don't actually know the history of its usage, that's just a native speaker's impression.)

As other answers have pointed out, you'll encounter the word in newspapers, but that doesn't mean it's an innocuous word just like any other. It's got a bit of a flourish; it draws attention to itself.

2
  • 1
    This is a horribly judgmental answer.
    – Rich
    Oct 19 at 21:04
  • edited to be less judgy Oct 20 at 20:34

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