An Exasperation of Personal

April 7, 2009

posted by Tobias Amadon Bengelsdorf

I explain what An Exasperation is here.

“Please be sure to check the area around you, and take all of your personal belongings.” I really hate it when the train/bus voice says this to me.

“Personal belongings.” Is there another kind? I have never, to the best of my knowledge, had any non-personal belongings. What would those be, exactly? Public belongings? Something from work that you took with you on the train, that you are carrying even though it doesn’t actually belong to you? Does the message imply that such items be left behind?

Point? The word “personal” is essentially useless. That’s the point.

According to, “belongings” are “1. something that belongs.
2. belongings, possessions; goods; personal effects.”

And, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, “A personal item that one owns; a possession. Often used in the plural.”

Gah! The word “personal” is in the definition of “belongings.” So what, exactly, does “personal belongings” mean?

But even in these definitions, do we need the “personal”? “A personal item that one owns”? Why not, “An item that one owns”? The “personal” doesn’t change the meaning. Even in the definition of the word “personal,” most of the examples don’t need the word “personal.” It doesn’t add anything. “That’s my personal opinion.” “That’s my opinion.” What’s the difference between those two statements? I’ll tell you: there isn’t one.

It might be an important word in a very few situations, such as when making a distinction between a professional opinion and a personal opinion. A lawyer might say, “it is my professional opinion that you remain calm and follow the law, even though my personal opinion is that you should go ballistic and exact wildly violent revenge.”

I think these types of situations are few enough that we could do away with “personal” and not much notice the difference.

Here is another common usage:

“Four or five personal friends of mine.” Again, is there another kind?

And, my very favorite of all, from, in reference to … wait for it … The Podcopter! (no lie):

“Could this new aircraft become available for your personal commute?”

(If it becomes available for any other kind of commute I’m gonna sue.)

Am I wrong? I am missing something about personal? Let me know.


One Response to “An Exasperation of Personal”

  1. stephen Says:

    i thought of some:

    personal essay
    personal day
    personal meal
    personal mask
    personal abbrevation
    personal tick
    personal wallpaper
    personal sticker
    personal sandwich
    personal lamp post
    personal garage
    personal british chump

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