I came across two different idioms, “a law untothemselves” and “each to his own” in the scene then British Army Captain, later a global media tycoon, Dick Armstrong, plotting to rob Julius Hahn, a desperate German press owner of the ownership of his newspaper, Der Berliner in Jeffery Archer’s fiction, “Fourth Estate.” :

Hahn asked, “Do you think there is anything you can do?” “I’d like to, Julius. But as you understand better than most, the American and Russian sector are a law unto themselves.” - P.316

Armstrong placed the dozen bottles of claret on Captain Hallet’s desk before the captain had a chance to say anything. “I don’t know how you do it.” said Hallet. “Each to his own,” said Armstrong, trying out a cliché he had heard Colonel Oakshott use the previous day. – P.318

Wikianswer.com defines “to each his own” as ‘everyone has their own thing and a right to one's personal preferences.’

usingenglish. com. defines ‘a law unto themselves’ as ‘If somebody is a law unto themselves, they do things their own way and follow their own ideas about how to live instead of following what others do.’

“Each to his own” and “a law untothemselves” are very different on their looks in terms of the components of word, but according to the above definitions, they look pretty similar in that everybody has their own rights and preferences, though the former places focus on preference, and the latter on deed.

What are the exact definitions of, and basic difference between “each to his own” and “a law unto themselves”?

  • jwpat7. It should be 'desperate.' I used it in the sense of 'now hopeless.' I corrected it. I'm a terrible speller. Thank you for your reminding. Jun 3, 2013 at 1:28
  • In the context of "American and Russian Sector(s?)", after WW2, the Americans, Russians and British all had "sectors" in Berlin, Germany that were literally under their own law, not that of the local jurisdiction. . . A law unto themselves. Jun 3, 2013 at 2:57

2 Answers 2


It's an astute observation, whilst they may seem to mean the same thing, the two idioms convey very different contexts and emotions:

To each their own

This particular expression conveys a resigned acceptance or dismissal of someone's choice. It definitely is a comparative statement.

Its emotion tends to be particular to a subject that has a limited feel to it. For example, if you like a sherbet over ice cream, I might say "whatever, to each his own". It not only conveys choices, its direct-predicate comes across as being inferior.

If you want to get a relative feelings, consider the following (and contrast with the expressions later on)

Hercules: "Venus uses seduction, whereas I believe in strength, to each their own"
Venus: "I use seduction, Hercules believes in strength, to each their own"

Both of the speakers seem to convey that their own choice is superior to the other's, otherwise the syntax of both dialogs is pretty much identical.

A law unto themselves

This expression conveys a reverence, or a sense of awe, about the entire disposition towards the predicate. Here there is the dismissal of everything in favour of the predicate:

In contrast to the to each their own, the meaning remains identical irrespective of the speaker:

Commenting on Hercules' strength:

Hercules: My strength is a law unto itself
Venus: Hercules' strength is a law unto itself.

I am not sure if this clarifies, I hope it does.

While this explanation may not be a law unto itself, it is, however, useful. Although you could choose to ignore it, after all, to each their own.

  • It occurs to me that the phrase "to each there own" has an implied shrug in it. Aug 17, 2013 at 20:48
  • "each to his own" = "different strokes for different folks" = "de gustibus non est disputandum" = "there's no accounting for taste" = some people like one thing others another, and there's often no reason one way or the other.

  • "a law unto themselves" = there is no higher authority that controls them.

The first is about the acknowledgement of differences among people (and possibly also tolerance of those differences. The second is about a particular entity needing special direct negotiation rather than any appeal to a higher control.

  • 5
    Dunno if it's particularly British, but whatever floats your boat is another variant on the "each to his own" sentiment. Jun 3, 2013 at 1:18
  • You had me scratching my head there, with a low unto themselves! (i.e. - "they have nobody lower than themselves that they can control" :) Jun 3, 2013 at 1:21
  • @FumbleFingers "whatever floats your boat" is common in AmEng as well.
    – TecBrat
    Jun 3, 2013 at 1:38
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers: 'no higher cow' is the original saying.
    – Mitch
    Jun 3, 2013 at 3:14
  • 3
    Generally, "a law unto themselves" means that they act as though there is no higher power, that they show contempt for everyone else and any actual authority. It's not normally a factual statement that there really is no higher authority.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jun 3, 2013 at 7:25

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