A Linguistic Trick (or Treat)

From the desk of the ancients


I’ll start with the trick. The treat is at the end of the essay.

Marcus Aurelius knew how to talk to himself.

Not in a crazy, half-muttering sort of way; he was an early proponent of journaling, expressed clearly in his opus magnum Meditations.

Did you know that he never intended anyone to read it? What a lesser place the world would be if we never had access to it.

As he explored his thoughts and ideas, he employed a linguistic trick to help himself wrap his head around ideas: he shifted his perspective by changing the part of speech from first person to second person.

In trying to focus his emotions, instead of writing “Ask yourself, ‘what is bothering me at this moment?’” he asks “Ask yourself, ‘what is bothering you at this moment’”.

It’s a subtle but powerful trick that helps you step outside of yourself — an essential shift you need when you feel yourself getting upset about something.

In fact, it’s only one step removed from George Costanza using the third person in “The Jimmy” episode of Seinfeld, when he exclaimed, “George is getting upset!”

Read more about this process and Marcus Aurelius’ use of it on Psyche.


And now, for that linguistic treat.

I used to collect corny pick-up lines, employing them entirely for comic effect (really, the only effect they ever had). My favorite was related to Marcus Aurelius’ approach:

“If I could rewrite the alphabet, I would put U and I together.”

Ugh. That’s pretty bad, isn’t it? I suppose not everyone appreciates a good pun.

Because I don’t want to feel like the linguistic equivalent of the house that gives you Bit O Honey or Necco Wafers, I’ll leave you with a bonus — consider it a full-sized candy bar: from The L.A. Review of Books: “Almost Too Sober: On the Appeal of Stoicism.


Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.