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Word of the Week: ‘self-made’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘self-made’.

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The wordsmiths at your favourite east London content agency have like, literally, got a corker for you in this week’s Word of the Week. We’re talking, like, all things ‘self-made’ after member of the Kardashian dynasty, Kylie Jenner, was named the youngest self-made billionaire EVER at only 21 – knocking Mark Zuckerberg off Forbes’ list.

The news has opened up a discourse around the meaning of ‘self-made’, with people – and people who write dictionaries – weighing in to remind the public what ‘self-made’ actually means

On Google Trends in the US, searching ‘self-made’ only points you to the most related topic which, you guessed it, is Kylie Jenner. And next? Urm, slavery – which we’ll come back to.

Meanwhile, US dictionary Merriam Webster has reported a 5,000% spike in lookups of the word, which was also named the second most searched word of 2018 by Dictionary.com. With those kinds of figures, it’s high time to get the linguistic lowdown.

What does ‘self-made’ mean?

Thought to be first used back in 1555, the word ‘self-made’ is defined as: “having achieved success or prominence by one’s own efforts.”

Other variations include: “becoming rich and successful as a result of your own work and not because of family or money.”

And our favourite? The Urban Dictionary’s laconic take on the word is quite simply, “Not Kylie Jenner.”

Most people (including the contributor of that particular Urban Dictionary entry) are griping that Kylie is not ‘self-made’ in the strictest definition of the word. They argue that being a member of the Kardashian clan – and having millions of social media followers as a result – is sure to have helped boost the success of her cosmetic empire. Like, just a smidge. 

She is, essentially, ‘self-made’ in the same way Trump was – we all know the whole “just a small loan of $1 million” spiel. 

On investigating the term further, we now know why the second most related topic is slavery. And no, it’s not because Kylie’s cosmetic empire has made consuming, lipstick-donning slaves of us all. It’s because the phrase, the ‘self-made man’, originally coined by Benjamin Franklin in 1832, was later expanded on in a lecture by activist and former slave Frederick Douglass in 1859.

He emphasised that the ‘self-made’ man must have come from the deepest depths of poverty: “from hunger, rags and destitution, they have come.”

Speed forward to 2019 and if you tweak that definition to: “from luxury, Dolce & Gabbana, they have come” then we might be on the right track. 

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