In and Of Itself

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks,

Is the term ‘in and of itself’ usually associated with a reward, complete: can the reward be either in or of itself or is the separate use insufficient.

I had to puzzle over the question a bit. I think it is asking if the phrases “in itself” and “of itself” can be used separately to mean intrinsically instead of being lumped together as “in and of itself.” Yes, they can.

in itself

This game is in itself an insult to anyone who buys it.

Privatisation is not good or bad in itself. 

The world knows that Russia currently has regular soldiers stationed within the borders of Ukraine, albeit not identified (which in itself is a breach of acknowledged rules of war). 

of itself

Of itself the idea of the outflanking maneuver was neither new nor original.

All change is of itself an evil, which ought not to be hazarded but for evident advantage. 

Of itself, the plan might not have been unlawful, but it could have had unfortunate repercussions.

“A reward in and of itself” is a cliché used in reference to some activity that brings little or no reward in terms of money or appreciation. For example:

A person’s job can be a source of reward in and of itself.

Making great music is a reward in and of itself.

Our work in community building can be seen as a reward in and of itself.

The expression may derive from the proverb “Virtue is its own reward.”

The idiom “in and of itself” is the English version of Latin per se: “by itself.”

Long used as an English adverb, per se means “by or in itself; without reference to anything else; intrinsically.”

Although some modern speakers object to the use of Latin expressions as elitist, “in and of itself” is hardly an elegant replacement for per se. But it is popular:

“To the extent any state employee was involved in facilitating the escape, that is a crime in and of itself, and that will be fully prosecuted as a crime in and of itself,” Cuomo said.

[A certain financing measure] could be one part of a comprehensive plan to increase education funding, but it is not a solution in and of itself.

A school plan such as an Individualized Educational Plan is insufficient documentation in and of itself to determine eligibility.

“In and of itself” is one of those phrases like “each and every” and “part and parcel” that say the same thing twice. Usually it is enough to say “in itself.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to condemn the expression altogether. Sometimes a speaker might want to use it as a form of emphasis. Generally speaking, however, it sounds stuffy and clichéd.

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