Tuesday, November 13, 2007

How are you feeling in yourself?

If someone were to ask you "How are you feeling in yourself?" or "How do you feel in yourself?" what would you think they were asking?

I've been having a lot of medical appointments lately, and I am asked this nearly every time. (And then my BrE-speaking friends ask me the same thing when I say I've been to the doctor's.) It has struck me as something I'm not accustomed to being asked (and not because I'm a stranger to doctors!). So, I've had a look on the internet, and found that how you feel in yourself is used on American sites, but it tends to be referring to something more like self-esteem than how one feels physically, as in the following examples:
When you act as if you are confident you will not only feel it you will appear it to the world around you and you are likely to find this magnifies how you feel in yourself. [sleepingtiger.org]

There is a tie---an invisible umbilical cord---between how you feel in your body and how you feel in yourself. [firstourselves.com]
Now, at the doctor's office, I'm definitely being asked about my physical self, not my psychological self. But I don't recall being asked this when under the care of American doctors. So, the question is: is this an AmE/BrE difference? Let's ask you! If someone asks how you feel 'in yourself', how would you interpret it? Is this something you're used to hearing in a medical context?

Postscript (18 Nov): Just saw an ad(vert) for Danone Activia pro-biotic yog(h)urt , in which the woman who took the "Activia challenge" says "I feel healthier in myself" (thanks to the yog(h)urt, apparently). Checking out their UK website, it says: "It helps keep your digestive system ticking away nicely in the background so you can get on with life more easily and feel more comfortable in yourself." There are videos of their ad(vert)s on the 'Testimonials' part of the site, but they're not downloading for me at the moment--but they might allow you to hear the use of in myself by a native speaker. In the US, the company is called Dannon and they market the same yog(h)urt, but there's no in my/yourself on the US website.

46 comments:

dan said...

On first seeing the title--before reading the post--I immediately thought "What a strange question"...I then thought a bit and came to the conclusion that it must be some sort of question about self-esteem or deep emotional well-being. (I'm a native speaker of AmE)

I'm left wondering if the physical/emotional distinction points to different cultural understandings of 'self'.

mollymooly said...

I don't think I've ever heard of it in Ireland. Google produces idle speculation that "how are you feeling in yourself?" is a non-double-entendrizable alteration of "are you feeling yourself?" It occurs in "The House on the Strand" by Daphne du Maurier from 1969.

marek said...

It's a question only asked by medical professionals in my experience, and I think (as one only on the receiving end of this usage) that they are trying to distinguish your overall physical state from the specific reason you are talking to them in the first place.

So:
Q: How do you feel?
A: I have got earache.
Q: And how do you feel in yourself?
A: Fine.

Anonymous said...

Another Irish view - to me as well it sounds like a question about your mental state. I don't think I've ever heard such a question, but something like "he's not very happy in himself" makes perfect sense to me.

M Sinclair Stevens said...

American here. I've never heard that wording by a doctor or anyone else. I wouldn't have a clue what it meant. I've seen quite a few different doctors/specialists in the last year. The only thing close is the standard, "So how are we today?" To which I always respond, "Why don't you look at the test reports and tell me."

Matt said...

As an American speaker, I have to admit this question sounds strange. In fact, it kind of sounds like broken English. I suppose it could refer to some sort of mental state. However, a question posed like that has an Oprah Winfreyesque kind of fuzziness to it and doesn't sound professional.

Jonathan Bogart said...

I join the chorus of Americans whose initial reaction is that the question is nonsense, or at best pop-psychology.

My reaction to it, hearing a doctor say it, would probably be along the lines of "Uh... what?"

If the question was repeated, with emphasis to make it seem like I have to give an answer, I would probably say something like "okay, but [restate the reason I'm seeing the doctor]."

Anonymous said...

I have not heard this (USA, midwest.) If the doctor asked me that, I'd wonder what he meant.

ellarien said...

I don't remember hearing this one in ten years in the US, but back home in the UK I'd interpret it as an enquiry into my general well-being (physical and mental) independent of the specific problem, as in "He's all right in himself, he just can't walk."

Christopher said...

He's alright in himself, as well as the original question strike my AmE ears as nonsense and or non-sequitors.

FieldMouse said...

I'm British and have heard it from other British people before but never from a doctor! It's the sort of question that is so vague it would only seem right to answer it with something equally vague like "ok" or "a bit under the weather". Is the latter an expression that is used in AE?

Sharon said...

(British.) Agreed with the point about it being about general well-being vs specific complaint. It's not something I'd commonly hear though - either from doctors, as people have said, or people significantly older than myself (I could easily imagine my mum or aunt asking me this question but not my friends).

johnb said...

As a BrE speaker - I just want to agree with the general Vs specific issue point already raised. Like Sharon I would expect to hear it from older people.

From a doctor, I can imagine this as a general question AFTER the main concern has been raised. ie - "I know you have a broken leg, but how do you feel in yourself?"

The equivalent of "I know you have a broken leg, but how do you feel apart from that?"

I would expect it to cover both physical and psychological issues - and a suitable response might be ...

"Well I have been a bit down because I missed out on a promotion at work, and I had a a cold last week - which didn't help much either."

SimonK said...

BrE here. I wouldn't be surprised at all to hear this from a doctor, and like others, I would interpret it as a general question about overall wellbeing, rather than specific symptoms.

Putting aside the linguistic aspect, I'm sure that the reason why doctors ask this is an awareness that many people will present with a specific symptom when the actual problem is much more deep-seated. For example, someone who goes to the doctor complaining of feeling lethargic might have had a lot of late nights, or they might be diabetic, or have cancer. All of those can be identified with appropriate specific questions or tests.

However, it's equally possible - in fact, possibly even more likely - that the underlying problem is clinical depression. Given the stigma that (still) exists in the UK around any form of mental illness, a direct question - "do you feel depressed?" - may well result in a negative or defensive answer. A more general, open-ended question allows space for the patient to reveal more if they want to, with a little less pressure.

Incidentally, in many cases this will hold even when the initial symptom is actually nothing to do with the underlying problem. For example, someone may go repeatedly to their doctor complaining of toothache. Eventually (and it may take some time), the doctor may discover that there's actually nothing wrong with their teeth - they just needed an excuse to see the doctor because they're feeling suicidal and that just too big a thing to reveal on a first visit. They need time to build up a level of trust.

lynneguist said...

Blogger just ate my finely crafted comment, so I'm feeling worse in myself! ;)

Thanks for all the great feedback.

To give a little more context, the people I've heard it from (at least five or six of them) are in their 30s to 50s. The friend I've heard it from is one who's been seeing doctors a lot lately too--so it could be a very medicalese thing.

In my experience, it's said right after I get a not-great test result--like a high blood pressure reading. Sort of "Well that's a bit high, but how are you feeling in yourself?" As if to say, "what really counts is not the test result, but whether you're feeling the effects of the not-great situation." It's followed by probing me about symptoms, not mental well-being.

James said...

Yet another American who think it sounds non-grammatical.

Is there some reason why "how do you feel inside yourself" sounds grammatical (if a bit unusual) to me while "how do you feel in yourself" sounds non-grammatical? In contrast, both "go in the house" and "go inside the house" sound fine, for example.

James said...

Speaking of which, what's the difference between "non-grammatical" and "ungrammatical"? Do the pros prefer either? The OED has both.

jhm said...

Only the unlikeliness of the phrase being an inquiry into my physically examining my insides, makes my interpretation of 'how do I feel in myself' something like an ill formed 'how do I feel about myself.'

With no little experience with American doctors over the years, I've never heard the question, and it seems odd, and inappropriate, for patient doctor conversations to include such vague questions (which necessitate correspondingly vague responses), so I would request clarification on the point if asked such a thing.

lynneguist said...

James, I'd use non-grammatical to mean 'not concerning grammar', whereas ungrammatical means 'not grammatical'. So, in your context, (as a professional!) I'd say 'ungrammatical' or 'not grammatical'.

lynneguist said...

Oh, and on your other point, James:

Maybe it's harder to resolve the ambiguities in in yourself than in inside yourself in this context. (In has more senses (meanings) than inside does.) I suspect that there's also interference from the phrase in itself (or in themselves in the plural), as in The length of this comment is not a problem in itself. There the in doesn't mean inside, so if you try to interpret in yourself in the same way as in itself it gets confusing.
Just a hypothesis...

Anonymous said...

To my AmE ears, I would likely think that the doctor said

"How do you feelin' yourself?"

I would then assume that they misspoke and meant to say:

"How are you feelin' yourself?"

The "yourself" would seem redundant, but the overall point would get across...More often than not my doctor would simply ask "How do you feel?"

dearieme said...

"I missed out on", says johnb, showing that Americanisms get everywhere. By which I mean that even if the expression was spotted in British English as a rare event umpty-um years ago, it was not heard in my childhood, but crept into use after, I suspect, people heard it on American TV shows. He'll be saying "meeting with" next, or even "meeting up with". Anyway, I'm just fine in myself, thank you. Though the broken leg is proving a nuisance.

dearieme said...

Childhood favourite:
"Who are you?"
"Just fine; hoo's yersel'?"

Roger Green said...

AmE:
WHA? - agreed that it's "new agey" talk for my psychological state. No doctor I've met, medical or psychological, would speak like that.

Canadian said...

I've never heard this, and if someone did ask me this question I'd assume they were not a native English speaker. I might think they were trying to come up with an equivalent to the French expression "se sentir bien dans sa peau" (which refers to self-esteem, etc.). Or if they were not francophone I might wonder if they were referring to my "insides", like if my stomach hurts or something.

Mark said...

It sounds wrong to me. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say it. I wouldn't have any idea what it meant, but like most of the Americans here would wonder whether it was asking about how I felt emotionally.

I'm British.

rick said...

(AmE) Hmm. I've never heard it, but I think I'd respond with "do you mean inside my body, as opposed to emotionally?" That would assume it was redundant, given that I'm with the physician, who I normally wouldn't expect to be inquiring about my emotional state.

Still, it does ring a little of possible emotional and psychological meanings, akin to "I have pride/confidence/faith in myself" or "I'm disappointed in myself."

terrycollmann said...

I think we've had enough Americans saying it sounds odd to them, thanks. The question is a clever ruse used by experienced British doctors designed to find out what is really wrong with a patient, as opposed to what they "presented" with, ie walked in complaining about. It's meant to stop the "there was one more thing, doctor" moment when the patient is just going out the door and turns round to mention what is really bothering them.

Rampantheart said...

In India I have never heard someone speak like this!We follow the British english ,yes, but this is very new to me!This one sounds way too silly to use!Don't know what i would say if someone were to ask me the question.I would perhaps say "I beg your pardon!"!
Now that i know it's used in parts of Britain i kinda go with it but still it doesn't make any sense!

Stephen said...

I'm British (though I've lived abroad for nearly thirty years) and I've never come across the phrase.

qwerty said...

From North-West England...never heard of the phrase - although I must add that the last time I visited a doctor was when I was ten. I feel inclined to the agree with the clever-ruse theory, because put aside from that context, the question sounds absurd.

Peter said...

I am Br.Eng from just outside London and I agree with simonk’s interpretation. Additionally, I think the doctor may have made a diagnosis and by asking this fairly innocuous question he/she is probing to see if you reveal any confirmatory symptoms, but he/she does not want to put ideas into your mind or confuse you. In other cases I suggest he/she has decided that your condition does not, at this stage, require medical intervention unless it is causing additional problems.

Jim J said...

I'm AmE but listen to lots of British radio and some TV imports.

I've heard this expression only once before and that is from a Peter Cook and Dudley Moore routine in which Pete is a psychiatrist and Dud is the patient. As the story unfolds Dud says he has a new girlfriend whose name happens to be the same as Pete's wife and Dud has to pound it into Pete that this girl IS Pete's wife.

Pete explains this to Dud using all the psychiatric lingo and Dud gets excited. Pete understand it and accepts it. The more logical and clinical Pete gets the more upset Dud gets until Dud finally says he has to have the woman and therefore he has to kill Pete - now. Pete responds by saying 'Oh, I see your hour's up.'

Anyway the side trip starts with Pete asking Dud how he feels in himself.

BTW, from my experience 'Miss out' is definitely not American, it's British or at least English.

Interface said...

You said: "I've been having a lot of medical appointments lately"

I hope you are feeling fine and you get over whatever it is really soon.

johnb said...

I know my earlier post used a doctor as an example - but the 'image that pops into my head' when I hear the phrase is of two women talking about their ailments.

The context is the same - 'Oh you've got chilblains? But how are you feeling in your self?'

So in my BrE experience - the phrase is not just restricted to being a clever question used by doctors. However, it still means - 'how are you feeling apart from ailment X'.

potentilla said...

I am a British long-term (cancer) patient. I get this question from dootors, and sometimes nurses, quite often. It means something like "are you feeling systemically ill? at the moment" (leaving aside that you have a specific medical problem which we have just been discussing) or "are you managing to have a bit of a life or are you spending most of your time in bed?" (leaving aside that we both know you're in the middle of chemo).

Hazel said...

Speaking as a British English speaker from Yorkshire, I would agree with simonk's asssessment - and I have infact been asked this by doctors in this context.

mollymooly said...

Regarding the Danone postscript: since yoghurt is more for the bowels than the psyche, does this count as a pun on "feel better in yourself"?

lynneguist said...

No, it supports my (and others' in the comments here) interpretation that the question is about your physical/whole well-being in BrE (and not about psyche, which is all that we find in the AmE examples).

tomroper said...

I think this is a neologism. I think it first appeared in British medical and veterinary consultations around 15 years ago.

Robbie said...

Potentilla has it spot on. How you feel "in yourself" is how you feel systemically. That is, do you feel ill all over, or are you basically OK apart from something local?

The best description I've come across is in Jonathan Miller's The Body in Question (book based on the BBC series of the same name, dated 1978). This is from a discussion of medicine as a universal element of human culture. Here Miller has been talking about the traditional medicine of the Azande, a people of the southern Sudan.

"The Azande make an intuitive distinction between illnesses where the patient feels generally awful and those which merely affect local parts. Fevers, headaches, and abdominal pain are almost invariably treated by remedies taken by mouth. But when the disorder is confined to a limb or the skin, the patient simply dabs, binds, or anoints the affected part. The Azande share a worldwide conviction that the human physique is divided into two distinct sectors: a metropolitan self with which personal identity is associated, and a series of outlying protectorates whose disordered function may produce suffering without threatening the integrity of the individual. Our own language expresses this distinction very vividly. A patient with a painfully swollen knee will usually insist that he feels 'quite all right in himself', but when he is feverish or nauseated, or when the pain is in his chest or abdomen, he will usually announce that he feels 'rotten' or 'seedy'. In New Guinea, patients suffering from serious generalised disease talk of themselves as 'ruined'."

lynneguist said...

Really helpful contribution, Robbie!

Robbie said...

Hooray, I was helpful!

John Cowan said...

Miller's distinction, though not the title phrase of this post, is very familiar to me as someone who has a chronic disease and spends a lot of time under the weather because of (possibly related) minor acute diseases. If my hand hurts, I say "My hand hurts", but if my chest hurts, sometimes it's "My chest hurts" and sometimes, when the pain gets bad, it's "I hurt".

I compare the latter situation to riding a barrel in a river, as Bilbo did in The Hobbit: sometimes you ride the barrel, sometimes the barrel rides you.

Anonymous said...

I agree with SimonK.
I'm a medical student in London and we are taught to use this question to gently probe for depression.
If the patient isn't depressed they may say something like 'apart from xyz I feel fine'.
If they ask 'what do you mean by that?' then it leads nicely to more specific questions about 'low mood'.

jb said...

In the US (at least around Philadelphia), if a doctor wanted to ask how you were doing other than your immediate malady, s/he would likely actually use the words "in general", or "generally", as in "Other than your earache, how have you been feeling, in general?"