What Is A “Self-Own”?


Self-own spreads on social media, of course

To understand what self-own really means, we must first know the meaning of the slang term own. To own someone is “to ridicule, embarrass, or defeat them,” a sense of the word ultimately dating back to the 1910s! In a timeless example, Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) repeatedly owns incompetent burglars in the first two Home Alone movies.

We can now imagine what a self-own is: “someone inadvertently embarrassing themselves, especially by doing something that backfires on them.” For everyone else, this can be a pretty good source of entertainment.

There aren’t many places better suited to celebrate the mistakes of others, it seems, than on social media. Naturally, this is the arena where self-own has had great popularity. The term notably spiked in late September 2018 during the US midterm elections. Around this time, Texas Senator Ted Cruz attempted to attack his opponent, Beto O’Rourke, by posting a video of O’Rourke criticizing police brutality. This, however, became a win for O’Rourke, as he was met with widespread support for the video, and a self-own for Cruz, because it boosted his opponent so well. Epic fail.

This incident wasn’t the birth of self-own (it’s recorded by at least 2004), but it certainly helped put the term in vogue. And since then, tweeters are keen to point out the self-owns of everyone who has made the mistake of not fully thinking things through, from everyday folk to, more often than not, politicians.

Here, we take a look at seven quintessential self-owns that have happened since Cruz’s.

1. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Breakfast Club-inspired choreography

This is probably the most prominent self-own so far in 2019. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC, for short) is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, a woman of Hispanic heritage, and a very vocal, progressive, social media-savvy leader. This last quality has made her something of a lightning rod for criticism from the far right (which there is an abundance of on social media).

On January 4, 2019, a Twitter account, @AnonymousQ17763, posted a video unearthed from AOC’s time in college. It featured her and some friends recreating the iconic dance scene from The Breakfast Club, intended to embarrass and discredit her.

The video, however, was met with a widespread support for AOC. A consensus was reached on the news and social media: She enjoyed dancing with her friends in college, and this only made her more likable.

The congresswoman then responded with her own dance video, which earned nearly 800,000 likes.

The attempt to taint AOC’s reputation through embarrassing her resulted in making her more accessible and relatable. It had the effect of raising her profile. Not quite the political bombshell @AnonymousQ17763 had been hoping for. 

2. Piers Morgan and his lack of self-awareness

British TV personality Piers Morgan is a man of questionable talent but undoubted controversy. His fame seems to be based on how hard it is to like him and how disassociated he can be from reality.

In January 2019, a Twitter account with little more than 3,000 followers (@xlayre) tweeted a joke: “The clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings and still isn’t as sensitive as a white man on the Internet.” This resonated with a lot of people and racked up over 700,000 likes.

During this blast of popularity, the tweet caught the eye of Mr. Morgan, who duly responded: 
“The penis has 8,000 nerve endings too, but if I said ‘it still isn’t as sensitive as a black woman on the Internet’ – I’d be banned from Twitter & fired for racist toxic masculinity. Why is racist toxic feminism – like this tweet  – any more acceptable?” 

Oof. Piers’s knee-jerk reaction proved @xlayre’s joke had some basis in reality, as he is the very type of sensitive, internet-dwelling white man which the humor was based on. Classic Piers Morgan. Classic self-own.

3. The Skeleton Museum’s delusions of grandeur

For #3, we have a more light-hearted self-own.

In Orlando, Florida, there exists a museum of skeletons called, well, Skeletons: Museum of Osteology. At its entrance, a sign proclaims it as “America’s Largest Skeleton Museum.” This, of course, is no small feat. 

However, directly above that sign is an even larger one that says “America’s Only Skeleton Museum.” 🤔 

If it really is the only one, then technically it is also the biggest one by default. No … bone of contention there. Only a spectacular, but lovable, self-own.

4. Fox News and its investigation into racist rhetoric

One of the stars of Fox News is Tucker Carlson. This is a man with a reputation for making statements with a certain racial bias, shall we say. It is this very reputation that has, in part, garnered him a large fanbase, a vast personal fortune … and a lot of critics. 

A segment on the channel in mid-January 2019 analyzed the boundary lies between racism and non-racism. During it, a screen caption read: “What does racism look like?” Unfortunately for Tucker, this caption was included just below his facea face that is often associated with being exactly what racism, not to mention self-owning, looks like.

5. Peter Welch’s poorly conceived attempt to criticize the government shutdown

Here we have a slip-up from the other side of the political spectrum. Vermont ‘s Democratic congressman Peter Welch had made an attempt tweet his support of 800,000 government workers who were furloughed (or forced to work without pay) due to the 2018–19 partial federal government shutdown, the longest in history.

He wrote: “Never in the history of this country has it been legal to make people work for free, but that’s what’s happening to federal employees. This can never happen again.”

Poor Peter must have blanked out the dark history of slavery in this country. The Twittersphere was very quick to remind him. They were also quick to point his gaffe out as a self-own. An apology was not far behind.

6. Toxic masculinity at its finest

Here we have three simple Facebook posts from an unknown man, which have been screen-grabbed and shared on Twitter to revel in this brilliant self-own. A summary:

In post #1, a guy says the “pussification of America” results in men being “afraid to have a penis.” Classy.

This is quickly followed by post #2, in which this guy emphasizes, “I am a man… I am not scared to admit it.” He then goes on to say that anyone who is offended by that fact can “blow” him. He also adds #toxicMasculinity. Even classier.

Post #3 comes a few hours later. In it, he explains why he had to delete posts #1 and #2: “I have been censored by my wife… posts deleted…”. That met with a snarky comment: “Thought you had a pair,” to which he replies: “I pick my battles… sometimes poorly sometimes wisely.” Need we say more? Yep. Self-own.

7. The self-defeating justification for a border wall

To finish up, we return to the frenzied far-right of Twitter.

In January 2019, tweeter @mad_liberals, a keen supporter of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, attempted to create a meme imagined to be a good defense of more border walls.

The meme featured an image from CNN’s coverage of tunnels that had been dug under an existing border wall in the southern US with the text: “If walls didn’t work, then why are there tunnels under them?” @mad_liberals tweeted the image with the hashtag #BuildTheWall.

It seems this user decided to prove that walls are successful at keeping people out … by showing how simple they are to circumvent? No wall will stop that self-own.

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