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I considered 'self-proclaimed' but that, I believe, suggests an element of self-promotion (the proclamation aspect) whereas soi-disant, at least as I think of it, is more about self-presentation and in some contexts self-deceit.

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Wouldn't "so-called" or "supposed" be more neutral terms? –  Gilead Feb 17 '11 at 21:49
    
May you provide some information more about the context where the phrase is used? –  kiamlaluno Feb 17 '11 at 21:53
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"So-called" and "supposed" are related concepts but I think they imply third parties making the designation, rather than someone designating themselves, which is the thought behind soi-disant. –  Tom Hughes Feb 17 '11 at 21:55
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Soi-disant already is an English word. Otherwise, this question would have to be closed. (We don't do translation here.) –  Kosmonaut Feb 17 '11 at 23:44

6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I think "self-styled" would be the closest match.

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Literally word for word 'soi-disant' in French would be 'self saying' or more closely 'self-called'.

But the word is now native English (a borrowing) like 'a la mode' or 'frisson'. 'Soi-disant' has a formal or affected air to it (like other obscurantist borrowings).

In English it means two related things (see online definitions)

  • 'self-styled' (labeled by oneself and so suspect from bias)
  • 'so-called' (implying that the following label is not accurate)

The latter is both the more common interpretation since it includes the former semantically. It is a common thing to say in speech (along with 'so-called') in order to convey the same meaning as the much more informal 'quote unquote' or use fingers for air-quotes in order to make obvious that one is using a term sarcastically or that the one who chose the label for themselves is hypocritical. Whether so-called or self-styled, it is as M-W says "a disparaging term for someone who styles or fancies him- or herself in some role".

So 'self-styled' (or other variations) will serve your purposes, but be aware it is more likely to be understood as hypocritically referring to oneself, but rather as a sarcastic label by others.

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I think it would help to give an example sentence. I confess, I've never heard soi-disant used in English. But in French, it is used in three ways:

  • attributed to people who actually can proclaim themselves to be something: in this case self-proclaiming or synonyms would cover the meaning;
  • attributed to inanimate objects that can't actually speak/proclaim anything: in this case, alleged, so-called would cover the meaning;
  • as an adverb, in which case allegedly, supposedly would work in English.
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All of "self-styled", "so-called" and "supposed" work well. Which one you choose just depends on the context and personal preference.

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Suggestions:

  • self-styled: this is the phrase used in the first definition on Wiktionary, dictionary.com, Wordnet, etc.

  • self-proclaimed: this is used in Merriam-Webster. And I don't think that "self-proclaimed" necessarily implies self-promotion.

  • soi-disant itself: It is used in English, though it's a bit rare these days. (Actually I only recall encountering it in a Saki short story: "the soi-disant aunt".)

  • A thesaurus gives "alleged, allegedly, commonly named, formal, titular, nominal, ostensible, pretended, professed, purported, self-named, self-styled, soi-disant" — most of them don't work, though self-professed would.

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+1 for a link to a Saki story I haven't read in thirty years, thank you! –  Tom Hughes Feb 17 '11 at 22:52

how about "self-appointed"? Or "so-called," depending on the context? "Alleged" might work, too.

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Both of these have negative connotations (unless the person in question has an entitlement to appoint himself/herself to a real position). You can, for instance, style yourself a bon vivant or raconteur in order to help others get a handle on your personality without claiming anything to which you are not entitled. "So-called" and "self-appointed" automatically put the truth of the claim in dispute. –  bye Feb 17 '11 at 22:01
    
+1 for "alleged". @bye I think that "soi-disant" does have a negative connotation -- someone who is "soi-disant" (i.e. calling himself) something good like a "raconteur" is saying so (about themselves) only because nobody else believes/says that. –  ChrisW Jun 28 '13 at 19:40

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