I encountered this descriptor in an essay about "bitcoin carnivores":

The idea is simple: Use only Bitcoin, eat only meat. The espoused benefits are as much spiritual as they are financial and physical, and its advocates are self-serious. source

None of the dictionaries I ordinarily consult have a definition for self-serious, though Wordnik has some examples:

the show is ostensibly set in Portland, OR, but acts more broadly as a parody/homage to the "self-serious liberal" culture that can be found in many towns.

Presented without commentary, the most absurd, comical, self-serious and/or humorless moments from the pilot episode of "Smash."

After all, if ribbing of the sort Huddleston gets from @PrezHuddleston whose true identity remains a mystery to its muse stakes its humor on the notion that college presidents are stodgy and self-serious, then attempting to silence those satirists outright might reinforce the stereotype.

It seems like it has something to do with how seriously something takes itself, but I'm uncertain how self-seriousness is different from regular seriousness. Can something be self-serious but not serious, or serious but not self-serious?

Is self-seriousness actually a descriptor for a distinct kind of seriousness, or is it more a way for the writer to demonstrate a negative opinion about the seriousness? That is, by describing something as "self-serious" does a writer mean to say the subject takes itself seriously but the writer does not?

Is there a formal definition of self-serious in any particular field of study or inquiry, or is its use entirely informal?

2 Answers 2


In the contexts you provided, self-serious seems to mean "take themselves too seriously." In other words, they are pretentious, and lacking in self-awareness.

The most pertinent definition of serious according to Merriam-Webster is

not joking or trifling

So while both serious and self-serious imply sincere belief, self-serious also includes a lack of self-awareness and a degree of seriousness that is worthy of mockery.

A programmer who believes he's doing important work is serious about his job. A programmer who believes he's doing the most important work in the history of the world is self-serious.

  • So, would you agree that "self-serious" is not a strictly neutral descriptor, but one that carries the judgment that the thing being described is not worthy of being serious about?
    – nohat
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 18:37
  • 1
    I did when I wrote this answer, but looking again at your last example (stodgy and self-serious college professors) I'm forced to reconsider. Actually, I think it is the manner of the seriousness that is mockable rather than the object of the seriousness. A programmer who thinks he's doing the most important job in the world could be described as self-serious; though his actual work is not necessarily mockable, his attitude towards it is.
    – faraza
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 21:34

It is actually surprising that most dictionaries don't have any entry for "self-serious," since I consider the word entirely unremarkable and common. However, Wikitionary does offer one I'd agree with:

Taking oneself too seriously, pretentiously and humorlessly convinced of one's own seriousness.

So, to answer the question at hand, yes, one can be serious but not self-serious. But one cannot be self-serious without being serious. It is, indeed, an indicator of some judgment on the part of the speaker -- namely, that the seriousness is excessive or uncalled for.

  • It's probably not defined because it's so obvious, like self-involved, self-regarding, self-important, etc.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 1 at 0:45
  • @StuartF Well some of those follow directly from the meaning of the component words but serious isn’t even a verb. And most do list “self-important”
    – Casey
    Commented Jun 1 at 6:39

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