Adapted  from 101 Words I Don't Use by Paul Niquette
dedicated to Granddaughter Jasmine
by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©1997 Sophisticated: The Magazine
. All rights reserved.


                              -- Bumper-sticker by Victoria Elson

The book on semantics was chock full of quotations, each chosen to exemplify a specific case of word usage or to illustrate a principle of expression. The selections were notable, too, for their literary excellence, most having been taken from the works of great authors. One quotation caught my attention. I found myself, a page or two later, still enjoying it. Idly curious about its authorship, I turned back and checked the footnote.

"S. I. Hayakawa," it said. Hmm, I hmmed to myself.  A thought struck me: Why, Hayakawa is the author of the text itself!  The exclamation point was right there in that thought -- but not the next one: Authors do reference their own works. I re-read the quotation.

Good stuff. Might like to read more of it. I perused the rest of the footnote.  Sure enough, the citation was for the book I was holding in my hands. And for the page I was reading. "Hah," I exclaimed to myself, "a self-referent reference!"

Here's another:  Many of the essays I write apply self-reference (see, for example, elegancelessness).  Take that, Sam.

                                Love Rebus

Self Referent Rebus -- A riddle composed 
of words or syllables depicted by symbols or 
pictures that suggest the sound of the words 
or syllables they represent. 

Latin rebus, "by things."

elf-reference ramifies to many realms of thought, abstruse as well as humorous. I delight in the form probably more than most people.  Much of my thought-life has drawn a unifying theme from self-reference.  "Never say never!" -- probably the first example I ever heard -- fascinated me as a child. My own first concoction appeared in grammar school: "I never repeat myself; I never repeat myself."

Here is my worst, which I published in my high school newspaper...

Is this sentence (parenthetical statements provide auxiliary information but, if inserted in the wrong place, will disrupt the flow) a question, even though it ends with a "period"?

...and my best, in junior college...

All generalities have exceptions, except this one.

In my English 1A class at El Camino College in 1951, I flouted fastidious grammatical rules with unserious violations ("the house's roof").  A few were self-referent ("to never split an infinitive").  The most extreme was a fictitious child's pouting protest of parental penchants ("Mother, what did you bring the storybook that I did not want to be read to out of up for?") 

By some unknowable pathway, that monstrosity apparently made its way into the Guinness Book of Records as "the sentence with the most prepositions at the end of" (a category that no longer exists).  Nota bene, the first edition of GBR was in 1954, which allows at least a three-year head-start for my claim of originality in that venue. 

Now, this collection includes a record-setting self-referent preposition positioning protest...


Professor, what did you bring your copy of Strunk & White that the class does not want to be lectured to out of in for?

y studies at the university included Bertrand Russell and self-referent reasoning...

Form a class of all classes which include themselves. Does it include itself? The answer is yes, it includes itself, therefore it must be included in the class of all classes which include themselves.

Form a class of all classes which do not include themselves. Does it include itself? If the answer is yes, it includes itself, then it is not a class which does not include itself and therefore must not be included in the class of all classes which do not include themselves, so the answer is no, it does not include itself, it is a class which does not include itself and therefore must be included in the class of all classes which do not include themselves, so the answer is yes, it includes itself, then it is not a class which does not include itself and therefore must not be included in the class of all classes which do not include themselves, so the answer is...


In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.
Albert Einstein

Woody Allen

Which raises a few
self-referent questions...

  • What if there were no hypothetical questions?
  • Why not ask rhetorical questions?
  • What’s the plunt of crandling new words if you don’t utile them?


Television game show in which the host gives 
answers and the contestants ask questions. 

-- What is Jeopardy?


self-referent riddle on a milk carton...


Look carefully for the self-referent optical illusion...

Optical Illusion

A venerable teaser (O T T F F S S ___ ) has taken the form of a self-referent puzzle...



W I T N L I T  ____

Here are a few
self-referent observations...

  • There are two kinds of essayists in the world: those who say there are two kinds of essayists in the world and those who do not.
  • People who relocated to America from Europe don’t want to live next to immigrants.
  • Human nature would be remarkable, were it not that so many people suffer from it.
  • Verbal agreements are not worth the paper they're written on.
  • The most memorable slogans are sure hard to forget.
  • A sardonic smile expresses a sarcastic wrath.
  • Procrastination cannot be put off until later.
  • There is a whole lot of gerunding going on.
  • It is impossible to disprove the impossible.
  • When you least expect it, expect it.
  • Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.
  • Individualism is always in style.
  • To assert dignity is to lose it.
-- Archie Goodwin, reporting the words of Neo Wolfe in League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout.

...along with self-referent confessions...

  • My integrity keeps me from saying what I think.
  • My integrity discretion keeps me from saying what I think.

Self-Referent Screens

"The problem with Internet quotes is you never know if they are authentic."

-- Abraham Lincoln

I hate emoticons :-).

...and, of course, self-referent state-of-mind...

  • I used to think I was indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.

...even self-referent spiritual acknowledgments...

  • "An atheist has no choice but to believe in free-will."
                -- Christofer Hitchens
  • "Thank God I'm an atheist." 
                -- Spoken by Ricky Gervais, hosting the 2011 Golden Globe Award.
...not to mention self-referent dogma...
  • Belief is optional; pronouncement is mandatory (reference)...
...or self-referent sarcasm...
  • I find your sarcastic remarks to be most constructive.


As alliteration for flatulence, "pungent pneumatics" stinks.


...plus a pair of self-referent oxymorons...

  • self-help books
  • wishful thinking

...not to mention -- oh, all right, to mention -- a self-referent quotation...
"There is no there there."
                        -- Gertrude Stein

...whereas every self-referent oxymoron is an oxymoron, no self-referent non-sequitur is ever a non-sequitur.
Math Problem
Read for Free
...along with self-referent graffiti...

graffito Graffiti

self-referent catachresis (reference)...

  • Forming precise expressions is not rocket surgery.

...and self-referent prediction...

  • In the future all predictions made today will turn out to be wrong.  Except this one.

...or a self-referent metaphor...
  • Imagine an ill-fated analogy stuck between the dog and a fire-plug.

Metaphors that are impossible make my blood boil.

...or a self-referent critique...

  • "That said” is getting worn out.  That said, is there a shorter way to say “however”?

Text published in electronic form does not waste paper, which means that hyphen-
ation of a word at the end of a line makes no sense and also impairs reading.

...along with self-referent insincerity...

  • If you think my apology is not sincere because of that 'if' in it, I am sincerely sorry. 

...an example of
self-referent hyperbole...

  • If I've said it once, I've said it a million times, I don't exaggerate.

...a uniquely self-referent horse...


...and a
self-referent rant...

My opponent is going around fixing blame for the problem...
...instead of fixing the problem.
on and on
                    and on
Oh, do go on and on and on and on...

...and a self-referent confession...

There are times I almost think I am not sure of what I absolutely know.

-- King Mongut of Siam to Anna Leonowens
in the 1951 Broadway musical, The King and I
by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein

...together with a self-referent paraprosdokian...

  • Educated people are gratified by a well-formed paraprosdokian only when they are not compelled to disclose their ignorance of what the word paraprosdokian means.

...a self-referent paragraph...

This verk paragraph was evidentlk produced on a computer suffering from the exceptionallk scark turn-of-the-centurk bug.

...plus a self-referent aphorism...

  • Vulgaris aphorism contradico nutus in Latin. (An ordinary aphorism gains gravitas in Latin)...

Operor non fatigo super mule, 
iustus sarcina plaustrum.

(Don't worry about the mule, 
just load the wagon.)

...or a self-referent pronunciation guide...

  • There are at least two ways to pronounce orthoepy, which means the study of the pronunciation of words (or-THO-uh-pee or OR-tho-ep-ee).

...plus a self-referent spelling correction...

  • It may be all right to say the word "alright" out loud but alwrong to write it.

...alongside a self-referent font-guide: italic, bold, underline, color. 

...and a
self-referent delimiter-guide:

"I never sign anonymous letters."

 -- [Name withheld.]

...then one self-referent astrological sign...

As a typical Sagittarius, I do not believe in astrology.

...and finally a self-referent transclusion.

Four self-referent limericks are set forth below (author unknown)...

There was a young girl from Japan, 
Whose poetry never would scan. 

When she was asked why, 
She said with a sigh, 

"It's because I always try to include as many words in the last line as I can." 

There was a young boy from China, 
Whose poetry was really much finer. 

His limericks tend 
To come to an end


There was a young girl from Peru, 
Whose limericks end at line two.

There was a young man from Verdun.

Any machine desiring to demonstrate the automation of thought cannot expect to get by with mere prose. I dare to suppose that one might someday program itself for the production of
self-referent doggerel...

From this limerick computers derive 
Simulation of what is alive, 

Rhyming numbers galore
From line three with line four,

And line one with line two and line five.

-- Ana Pest 1994

...followed by self-referent mathematical definitions...

Published by permission of mightywombat.com.

...or for that matter self-referent Haiku...

Haiku's mandated
Five, seven, five form totals 
Seventeen syllab

...indeed, one might enjoy nostaalgia in the form of self-referent roadside signs...

n the meantime, I periodically distinguish myself from byte-mongering, siliconized souls by pecking out self-referent sentences:

This sentence refers to itself.

The eighth word in this sentence is last. The last word in this sentence is eighth. The second word in this sentence is second; so is the eighth. The last word in this sentence is second. So is the first word in this sentence.

Since the third word in this sentence is third, so is the ninth. Since the third word in this sentence is third, so is the tenth. Since the second word in this sentence is not second, then it must be the third. Since the second word in this sentence is not second, then it must be the tenth. Since the second word in this sentence is not second, then it must be the twelfth. Since the second word in this sentence is not second, then it must be the.

The ninth to last word in this sentence is ninth. The seventh to last word in this sentence is last. In this sentence, the fourth to last word is last. There are ten words in this sentence not counting this one. The last word in this sentence has three syllables. 

Words, words, words (there are three words in this sentence). Words, words, words (there are four words in this sentence). Words, words, words, (there are eleven words in this sentence).

Since there are not twelve words in this sentence, there is one more. Since there are not twelve words in this sentence, there is one less. Since there are not twelve words in this sentence, there are two words.

This sentence ends with more than one period. There are three "quotation marks" in this sentence. Does this sentence have a question mark. This sentence has a question mark? For emphasis, this sentence needs an exclamation point. 

And this sentence should not have begun with a conjunction.  This sentence is not pointless. This sentence does not deny its pointlessness. Since this sentence has a point, it is the sixth word.

The first letter of this sentence is T, while the first letter of "this sentence" is t, and the first letter of this "sentence" is s. The last word in this sentence is spelled sdrawkcab. The last word in this sentence is spelled backwards. The last word in this sentence is spelled.

Plurals are plurals in this sentence. Singular is singular in this sentence. Plural is singular in this sentence. Singulars are plural in this sentence. Plurals is singular in this sentence. Singulars is singular in this sentence.

This sentence is written in the passive voice. This sentence was written in the past tense. This sentence is in the present tense. This sentence will be finished not in the future but now. This sentence would have been expressed in the subjunctive mood.

This sentence's form is genitive. The genitive's form in this sentence is genitive. The apostrophe in this sentence assures that it's not genitive. The it's apostrophe in this sentence makes it genitive. The lack of an apostrophe in this sentence assures its genitive form. This sentence's genitive's form's apostrophe's appearances express four possessives.

This sentence advises the reader to never split an infinitive. Not to split an infinitive or to not split an infinitive, this sentence advises to never do both or always to do neither.

This is the sentence that a preposition appears at the end of. Of this sentence, the preposition appears at the beginning.

This sentence begins and ends with this. This sentence uses each word once. This sentence repeats the word twice twice. This sentence does not use the word once once. There is one repetition in this sentence. There is only one word in this sentence. 

This sentence is missing a vowel in the last wrd. This sentence lacks two vwls in the middle word. This sentence proves that cnsnts need vowels. This sentence proves that a oe needs consonants. Ever other wrd in tis sentence as one mising letter. The last word in this sentence is incompl.  There is one abbr. in this sentence.  This sent. has two abbrevs.  Look for two Capitalizations in this sentence.  How many Capitalized Letters are in this sentence?

This sentence uses underlining for italics.  In this sentence italics are not used for emphasis, but bolding is.  Bolding is used for emphasis in this sentence instead of italics.

There are not two negatives in this sentence. There is not one negative in this sentence. This sentence contains a truth. This sentence contains a falsehood. Since this sentence has nine words, it is true. Since this sentence has nine words, it is false. Since this sentence has one word, it is true. Since this sentence has more than one word, it is false. In this sentence nothing is true. 

Count the words in this sentence before you read it. Since this sentence is false, do not read it. Without the tenth word, this sentence would have no end. This sentence ends with beginning. Ending is at the beginning of this sentence.

Niquette is the first name in this sentence. The last name in this sentence is Paul.

Is this the last sentence?

Then there is the self-referent acronym...


...along with a self-referent hoax at...


...and a self-referent palindrome...


-- the fear of  palindromes


...not to mention -- oh, all right, to mention -- a self-referent phobia...


-- the fear of long words

...and a self-administered breathalyzer test...


...plus a self-referent acronym, also called a "backronym"...

Bing -- Bing is not Google

 ...or self-referent spoonerisms, starting as a slop of the tinge and becoming a ploy on wards.

...and here are a few self-referent signs...

sign on pipe

sign at airport

falling rocks

There is a neat collection of self-referent jokes to which I have offered one of my own from five decades ago...

...just before a self-referent script at a reference page...

"Enter your word," commands the window. 

So you type nothing.

"Aw come on!" complains the dictionary.

...and here, a self-referent non sequitur of some kind...

All Indians walk in single file.
At least the one I saw did.

...plus a self-referent expression of repetitious tedium...

"Same old, same old."

...not to mention a self-referentTATTOO. ...


...interspersed with a self-referent figure of speech...

Litotes is not a word with insignificant utility and not without unavoidable difficulty.  The use of litotes is not ill advised but never excludes those who are unwilling to withold the requisite untrivial effort for clarity and thereby avoid inconsiderable confusion for hardly the least uninformed listener.

...not to mention Blaise Pascal's self-referent moral... 

Few men speak humbly of humility, chastely of chastity, skeptically of skepticism.

...and Paul Niquette's Self-Proving Theorem... 

Men celebrate gender differences; 
women deny them.

For confirmation, simply quote the Theorem in mixed company and observe how the ensuing argument polarizes along gender lines: men pro, women con.

...alongside Douglas Hofstadter's self-violating law...

Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than 
you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

...while acounting for a self-referent speling errer, or perhaps a spelling...

...misteak, fallt, omision, bungel, delution, deveation, iniquaty, abserdity, refuted, flubb, glitsh, bonre, slippup, aberation, phlaw, blundor, oversite, falacy, whoopes, gooph, missteppe, dephect, pervertion, muph, laps, unexactnuss, scrue-up, transgretion, apocripha, falcity, fowlup, stumbel, muddel, gaff, misaprehension, whoppor, inaccuricy, flumox, incorect, foe paw, bluper, incorection, missdeed, rong, and snafoo.

...none made explainible by
self-referent dexlysia.

... but then there are a dozen letters that get silenced by self-referent similes...

anonymous as the l in folks

forgettable as the m in mnemonic

imaginary as the g in gnome

impersonal as the o in people

quiet as the q in billiards

sealed as the c in indictment

secret as the k in knowledge

seldom as the t in often

selfless as the I in business

silent as the p in swimming

subtle as the b in subtle

untimely as the h in hour

...and now here are three self-referent paranormalities…

§  People who indulge in psychokinesis are invited to raise my hand.
§  If you believe in extrasensory perception tell me what I am thinking.
§  Anyone with the gift of precognition might tell us what happens next. 

...and despicable with self-referent ignorance...


...or intolerable by a self-referent graffito...

Three Things I Don't Do:
    1. Graffiti
    2. Lists
    3. Irony
...or amusing by a self-referent denegration...

“I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means 'put down'.”

...and for enthusiasts, here is a self-referent Scrabble board...

;Self-Referent Scrabble

et's get down to business. What is the ideal growth rate for an enterprise? The answer is 17.65717% per year -- a unique, self-referent number, which I solemnly derived during the last quarter of the Twentieth Century as follows:

An enterprise growing at the rate of exactly 17.65717% per year will become exactly 17.65717 times larger in exactly...

17 years, seven months, 29 days, and 21 hours

...which is exactly 17.65717 years.

A self-referent Q&A (author forgotten, if ever known)...

Which is worse, ignorance or apathy?
I don't know and I don't care.

Une autoréférence en français...

Inversé ordre un dans écrits été ont mots les que parce sens aucun fait ne phrase cette.

Self-referent signs...


A self-referent interview...

Personnel Manager: "What is your greatest weakness?"

Candidate: "Frankness."

Personnel Manager: "I don't think that frankness is a weakness."

Candidate: "I don't really give a shit what you think."

A few collected examples of self-referent tautology...

A tautology is a free gift, a new innovation, or a violent battle. -- Ask Figarro

A tautology by any other name says the same thing.
Romeo and Juliet

Using a tautology means never having to repeat yourself.
Love Story

Taking an anodyne palliative is a tautology.
-- OneLook Dictionary

Scratch a tautology and I’ll show you a tautology.
Pink Panther

Even using different words, a tautology is still a tautology.
101 Words I Don’t Use

A negative tautology can never be positive.
Sir Owen Dixon

You can say the same thing by tautology. 
Yogi Berra

Tautology is no excuse; what is is.
Roman Law

Is there any other expression besides tautology for tautology?

What divinely inspired scriptural passages in venerated providentially authored biblical writings explicitly mandate that every completely plenary metaphorical collection that dares to cite any and all analogous comparisons must never ever be found guilty of indulging in dually redundant tautological repetitions (plural)?
1001 Metaphors by Crowd Sourcing

Here we have a self-referent fact-check (source)...

Pants on Fire



During the 2016 campaign for president, at least 50% of Donald J. Trump's statements were true.

-- Paul Niquette on Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

Finally, here's a try at a self-referent wish...

"Tell me your third wish," commanded the genie. 

"Hey!" I exclaimed.  "What about my first two?" 

"Your second wish was to forget all the thoughts revealed by your first wish." 

"On the contrary, I wish I could remember everything I have ever thought!"

"That was your first wish,"  said the genie. "And now your third."  Suddenly -- poof -- the genie was gone.


M. C. Escher Hands Drawing Hands

Thus, on a day chock-full of useful things to do, I set about to coin a
self-referent word, for which I have yet to find any use, apart from including it here.

1. Lacking in refinement and awkward in
               movement, appearance, or manners. 

2. Distastefully opulent in form or presentation.

Oh, all right.  So there already exists a self-referent word...

...a diacritical mark placed over a letter in some languages, as Czech and Lithuanian, and in some systems of phonetic transcription, especially to indicate that a sound is palatalized.

                      -- discovery submitted by John Swanson in 2015


“I is…” began the student’s recitation.

“No, 'I am'...” interrupted the teacher.  

The student looked quizzical and started again, “I is…”

“No!” exclaimed the teacher.  “You must say 'I am' not 'I is'."

The student shrugged.  “I am…the ninth letter in the alphabet.”


                                       Self-Referent RICOCHET    T

                                        R                      Ǝ

                                             I             H

                                               C      Ɔ




Graves  Gone but
                    not forgotten
Self-referent graves                                             GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN


Five years went by after the unpromoted apperarance of Elegancelessness. On June 2, 2002, I received a succinct message, which may have been intended as a self-referent criticism of this page...

What about "bushfulness" (unabashed and unbashful blundering)?   But a worthy site.

...from Scott Rice, who, in consultation with Julianne Presson, maintains the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest website, to which year after year I make solemn submittals, the most recent being a self-referent entry

Self-Referent Screenplay

A new avocation and accumulated commentaries over nine more years inspired this effort...




CLOSE ON: Desktop computer, with gnarled hands of an elderly ESSAYIST touch-typing on its keyboard, sound of soft clicking.

                              ESSAYIST (V.O.)
                  Dialogue is too hard for an old essayist
                  to write...


Self-Referent Screenplay

                 ...so I quit right here.




Over the span of a dozen years 1997-2009, the worldwide populartity of "self reference" has become astronomical.  Bing turns up 264 million results for "self reference."   I am gratified, not to say relieved, to find that this particular eccentricity is not -- well, off-centered (groan).  Perhaps the most scholarly collection appears at Cut-the-Knot.

And then there is this, received in 2011...

Home Page

Table of Contents

Contact the Author