The self-published book

In the recently published The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons —


edited by New Yorker cartoonist Bob Eckstein (a regular visitor on this blog), this Ed Koren (who’s also on this blog):


The PSP verb form self-published here is spoken by a book, so the semantics of the verb is far from straightforward: books don’t publish anything, much less themselves. The fact is that all the senses NOAD gives for the combining form self– take it to involve the Subject of a V in the head element self– combines with (some form of a V, or some derivative item with a V base):

combining form self-: [a] of or directed toward oneself or itself: self-hatred [derived N based on the V hate]. [b] by one’s own efforts; by its own action: self-acting [PRP form of the V act]. [c] on, in, for, or relating to oneself or itself: self-adhesive [derived Adj based on the V adhere].

and this is reflected in the senses NOAD gives for self-publish:

verb self-publish: [a] [with object] (of a writer) publish (a piece of one’s work) independently and at one’s own expense: eighteen months ago, he was an unknown writer who self-published his book with a minuscule print run of 20. [b] (as adjective self-published) (of a writer) having published their work independently and at their own expense: a self-published author.

But self-published quite often involves the Object of publish, rather than the Subject (whose referent is supplied in the linguistic context, or is inferrable from the context given background knowledge, or, being irrelevant in the context, is not even mentioned). Three examples:

Many of our students love what having a self-published book offers so much that they dive into the program again in order to write another one. (link)



Such uses merit another sense of the adjective self-published, beyond NOAD‘s b sense above, something like:

[c] (of a written work) published by a writer acting independently and at their own expense

The form self-published in #1 would appear to be straightforwardly another example of this sort, except of course that the speaker is, preposterously, a book — so that be self-published holds simultaneously of it in senses b and c.

More dictionary fun. My first reaction to the c sense of self-published was that it was a semantic development from the b sense, moving from an agent-like Subject interpretation to a patient-like Object one.

I was suspicious of that development, since it would seem to run counter to expected changes in the direction of subjectification (as studied, especially, by Elizabeth Closs Traugott), a shift over time towards meanings that present things more from the speaker’s perspective.

However, the development of an Object reading from earlier Subject-only readings would predict that the b sense was historically older, which is apparently what happened, since NOAD doesn’t even have the c sense.

But, as it turns out, the relevant entry in the OED has been revised more recently than the one in NOAD, and it looks like the c sense is significantly older. From OED3 (Jan. 2018) for self-published:

1. That is or has been published by oneself; chiefly spec.(of a book or other work) prepared and issued for distribution or sale by the author independently and at his or her own expense. [1st cite 1838 self-published evidence; 1863 his own self-printed and self-published books]

2. Of an author: that publishes or has published his or her own work, esp. a book. [1st cite 1897 the self-published poet; then self-published writer, self-published novelist, self-published authors]

First, the books; then, the authors.

There’s obviously a lot more to be said about self-V PSPs (consider self-assigned seats, for example), and I imagine there’s a significant literature about the topic, but I’m not familiar with it.

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