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Can the term ‘self-confessed’ be correct? I read it last week and it’s been bugging me ever since. Surely the only way to confess is to do it personally? Can someone else confess to my crime or secret? The ‘self’ part is redundent.

Then I thought it might come from a police background. If someone is about to be questioned and they confess without any probing I can see how ‘self-confessed’ could make sense, as they were not forced to confess by interrogation. But it still feels like saying ‘cold ice’ to me!

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Surely the term is a noun rather than a preterite, and therefore not to be considered as a verb? Anyway, were it to lose its first element it is potentially confusing, which possibility might account in part for the usage. Another is that it belongs to a set that includes self-loathing, and others that I cannot think of at present.

However, my preferred 'explanation' for the specific case is that it did not originally mean confessing as that is now commonly understood. Rather do I *imagine* that the first use of the expression would be found in such a context as a Protestant admitting her or his belief, rather than waiting to be accused by the Inquistion - admitting, declaring or self-confessing.

Of course, this suggestion could be complete nonsense…

semiotek January 31, 2011, 11:14am

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Perhaps it's someone just confusing "self-professed" and switching out confessed for professed?

gopokeygo January 31, 2011, 12:15pm

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Self-confessed means openly admitting to having a particular trait, etc. (and it's an adjective, not a noun). I don't think the "self" part is redundant. The "self' part is not referring to the person doing the confessing. It's referring to the person who elicits the confession. It describes a confession that one makes on one's own without being prodded or interrogated. It is competely self-motivated.

To illustrate:

Say, you have a gambling problem. Your wife confronts you after seeing a ten thousand dollar casino credit card charge. You admit that you can't control your gambling and beg for her forgiveness. That makes you a confessed gamble-aholic.

Now, let's say, instead, that you go to Las Vegas, waaaay to often, spend too much money there, but freely admit it to all your friends and relatives without being asked. You actually flaunt it. You gamble more than you can afford, know you have a problem, and happily let the world know about it. That makes you a self-confessed gamble-aholic.

porsche January 31, 2011, 5:16pm

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Also, "self-confessed" is usually reserved for overly-avid interests, slightly embarrassing affections, or minor harmless vices (think self-confessed choco-holic, not self-confessed serial killer) and isn't likely to have any kind of police background to its history.

porsche January 31, 2011, 5:27pm

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It is plain to me that the "self" in "self-confessed" is redundant. The above efforts to justify it don't address the simple fact that no one other than oneself can confess.

fmerton February 9, 2011, 4:56am

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I tend to think that the "self-" is a sloppy redundancy that is intended to somehow reinforce the fact that an individual has confessed rather than being accused. The term is usually used when someone admits to something a bit embarrassing, silly or unexpected - "The English professor is a self-confessed lover of romance novels." The meaning would be unaltered if one said "The English professor is a confessed lover of romance novels." As has been stated, no one but the professor could have done the confessing.

cancuckft February 9, 2011, 6:50am

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@ porsche, is gamble-aholic even a word? I know that in the US people with this problem are referred to as gambling addicts.

Norm April 1, 2011, 6:58am

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If an alcoholic is someone addicted to alcohol, then someone addicted to gambling would be a gamblingic or possibly a gambelic, but definitely not a gamble-aholic (unless he had a combination of both).
But I completely agree with everything porsche says about Self Confession.

Phil April 20, 2011, 1:35pm

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I suspect self-confess means that one confesses to oneself.

For example, if I were previously in denial about being a gambling addict, and one night I realize, "Lo! what they've been telling me is true. I AM a gambling addict." Then I will have self-confessed.

Sylvia April 21, 2011, 8:01pm

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