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He thought to himself

Posted by Jonathan on October 20, 2006

In Reply to: He thought to himself posted by R. Berg on October 19, 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

: : Thought to himself. Yes, that sounds redundant, if you associate thinking only with the silent, secret scrambling of nervous impulses here and there in that confused space between our ears-that is, with ratiocination. But it's only sometimes that that's what thinking means. To think can also mean to have an opinion, or even to express an opinion. The word needs a context. It is true that "thought to himself" can be redundant and can be a waste of words-but perhaps that's not always the case.

: : Let me construct o ne of my clumsy examples in an effort to demonstrate what I mean. "A bunch of us got to talking at Larry's party, and being too polite and peaceful to want to argue about religion or politics, we started discussing matters of c lothing and fashion. I said I thought redheads probably should avoid wearing purple. But Glenda, she of the red hair, thought differently, and said so. A small to-do ensued, with some figurative foot-stomping, and I couldn't help thinking to myself that we wouldn't be feeling this heat if Glenda only knew what she looked like in purple. In truth, I've thought for a long time that NOBODY should wear purple."

: : Not much there, but Glenda, when she "thought," did it aloud. When the author was thinking to himself, he was in company with others who were "thinking" aloud, so thinking to himself makes a real difference. "I've thought for a long time..." is somewhat abstract, another way of expressing a thought, but not to the others present.

: : Another group at the party was congratulating Ginny on her new hair-do. Everyone thought it looked spiffy. I congratulated her, too, but I thought to myself, "Ginny still looks like a bulldog. She's always looked like a bulldog, and now I wonder if her nose is telling her what I'm thinking."

: : "I went to the reception and shook a lot of hands. Rose was there, and I thought she was stunning in her long dress." I don't need to think to myself, because there's no indication that I was having a conversation with anyone and therefore needed to keep anything to myself. Since I was alone, all my thoughts were perforce kept to myself.

: : "I saw Rose at the reception, and told her she looked wonderful. What I thought to myself was that I needed to get better acquainted with this girl, and as quickly as possible."

: : So now I'm thinking to myself that this is a longish response to a shortish question.
: : SS

: Smokey, you're defending "thought to myself" when thought means suppressed speech. I understand, but I still don't go for it. In your examples, one could write "I said to myself" or "I told myself" without implying that "I" said anything aloud.

: If you endorse "I thought to myself," what's wrong with "I dreamed to myself" and "I remembered to myself"? ~rb

:Dear Ones, it's not that complicated, but glad you've had your fun. Like I said before, multiple personality disorder would be the only logical explanation for this illogical non-viral contagion. You think, period, not to yourself, unless you are more than one self. Jonathan