Is SELF-DEFEAT possible
The Controversy of SELF-DEFEAT
It's a controversial topic, because everything about it raises a mysterious question without an answer: what is self-defeat and how does it work—does it even exist, in the first place?
Obviously, the expression must have been part of the language at some stage or other, or it wouldn't be listed in the dictionary. Actually, it was once as dramatic as defeat itself, more so critical because it could be self-inflicted. Which raises the next question: if there is indeed such a thing and if it's that important, then why is it unheard of—when's the last time you bumped into this terminology, come to think of it? It does seem another life since someone's thrown those two words together into the conversation; they never turn up anywhere any more, except in the dictionary—more often on the online dictionaries, oddly enough. Yet until not so long ago self-defeat was quite an infamous thing to say, not merely a figure of speech, it could make up the worst insult, akin to accusing someone of being a loser—a defeatist, people would call it back then. However for some reason this weird terminology went out of fashion somewhat between the two world wars, gradually at first and then vanished, just like that, either in the early Cold War period or soon as the first men went into space, some say, although others have it that the two words never again came up next to each other after Viet Nam was over; they may be right insofar as it's been pretty much senseless to differentiate defeat from victory, ever since.
At any rate, self-defeat is thoroughly unheard of in real life, at least in the English-speaking world—which is, by far the most bizarre aspect in this whole business, given that SELF goes well with anything. Indeed, this versatile ability to replace ME by SELF is a unique feature of the English language, certainly one that eventually tipped the scales in the battle for universal supremacy.
But, here it is, the dictionary will combine SELF with almost any word that moves, except DEFEAT.
Mind you, some conscientious lexicographers (academic people who write the dictionary) still do, although you can tell even they are not especially keen to discuss the matter. No doubt, recording every word that's ever existed can be a job and a half, so you would want to keep it short rather than make it into a chat; here is what they say when they do talk:
SELF-DEFEAT: acting so as to defeat its own purposes.
This phrase, which is the standard definition of self-defeat actually sums up what you will find on that score in any conventional dictionary. And that same explanation will then be repeated, almost word-for-word in every word-power website although most online dictionaries will throw in a couple of popular quotes, if only for creative appeal. Fortunately an old saying, even if vaguely relevant can be a lot more evocative than no other literature at all, as in this case.
You won't find much else on this mysterious topic, unless you turn into a bookworm. And now, why lose sleep over some silly expression that's gone right out of use and is outright useless?—it won't even work as an insult, any more.
Then again given that anything to do with defeat, however it happens, tends to be pretty much critical to everything we do, it may be an idea to give the matter a second thought.
Whether it's possible at all to defeat oneself remains to be seen—it could be a contradiction in terms, for all we know. Still, how could this aspect of language have become so thoroughly obsolete, when defeat plays such a vital part in everyday survival?—that's all you hear about, these days, surviving and being a survivor. Survival consists in not being defeated.
Apparently, being a survivor involves the ability to win instead of being defeated, but what we do to ourselves never seems to come into the picture despite the fact that, as we all know, man is his own worst enemy.
To be continued...
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|Author: René Blundo
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