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He thought to himself

Posted by R. Berg on October 18, 2006

In Reply to: He thought to himself posted by Smokey Stover on October 18, 2006

: : : : : : : : Does anyone know from where the nonsensical phrase "he thought to himself" came? Thanks. Jonathan

: : : : : : : I don't know. It's just that there are some superfluous words. "He thought" says it all.

: : : : : : I believe many people have independently invented the redundant expression "I thought to myself," rather than adopting it by viral contagion. Maybe, when thinking, they experience themselves as split into an inner speaker and an inner listener. You'd be hard put to find the first use. ~rb

: : : : : It mirrors the perfectly logical "I said to myself". It's just done a bit more quietly.

: : : : But it isn't logical. You can say something to yourself or to your friend. You can't think something to your friend. ~rb

: : : I said "I said to myself" is logical. By "It mirrors", I mean it follows the same construction, same line of thought. Language is not based on logic. You say something to yourself, then you say it quietly, then you can say it sotto voce - what's the difference if no one else hears you if you've said it or thought it.
: : : Also, sometimes you think/say things to yourself that are directed at/to other people. If you see your boss do something stupid, you can think to yourself "Boss, what the heck are you trying to do!"

: Apparently the Lord Chancellor, in G&S's Iolanthe, could had a habit of talking to himself.

: Lord Chancellor:
: When I went to the Bar as a very young man,
: (Said I to myself--said I),
: I'll work on a new and original plan,
: (Said I to myself--said I),
: I'll never assume that a rogue or a thief
: Is a gentleman worthy implicit belief,
: Because his attorney has sent me a brief,
: (Said I to myself--said I!).

: Ere I go into court I will read my brief through
: (Said I to myself--said I),
: And I'll never take work I'm unable to do
: (Said I to myself-said I),
: My learned profession I'll never disgrace
: By taking a fee with a grin on my face,
: When I haven't been there to attend to the case
: (Said I to myself--said I!).

: I'll never throw dust in a juryman's eyes
: (Said I to myself--said I),
: Or hoodwink a judge who is not over-wise
: (Said I to myself--said I),
: Or assume that the witnesses summoned in force
: In Exchequer, Queen's Bench, Common Pleas, or Divorce,
: Have perjured themselves as a matter of course
: (Said I to myself--said I!).

: There's more, but this is enough.
: SS

Thinking is interior by definition. It isn't directed at anyone. Adding "to himself" or "to yourself" is therefore unnecessary. If you think to yourself, "Boss, what the heck are you trying to do?" you've addressed yourself as Boss - but you're not the boss. The boss is. Apparently you were thinking to the boss. True, some aspects of language are illogical, but this one shouldn't be. ~rb