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Jones, E. (1920). A Linguistic Factor in English Characterology. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 1:256-261.

(1920). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 1:256-261

A Linguistic Factor in English Characterology

Ernest Jones

The definition of national character traits is notoriously treacherous ground, but in all attempts to describe those most typical or general among English people one is always mentioned with such unvarying emphasis that it is hard to resist the conclusion that it must relate, however roughly, to some group of observable phenomena. I refer to the striking insistence of the English on propriety, which is commented on not only by practically all foreign observers, but also by Americans and our fellow-subjects from overseas, not to speak of the "Keltic fringe" in our own islands. That it degenerates into prudishness here more often than in any other country, at least in the Old World, will also, I think, be widely admitted. The trait is probably to be correlated in some degree with the proneness to reserve, the absence of social gifts, the dislike of betraying emotion of any kind, and the horror of self-display, vaunting, braggadocio, gasconade, rodomontade — one sees that we have to use foreign terms to indicate attitudes so foreign to us — which also belong to the judgments passed on the English by foreigners. Psychologically the group in question might perhaps be described in McDougall's language as a deficiency in the self-regarding instinct. Psycho-analysts would call attention to the secondary nature of the phenomena as indicating the existence of what is called a reaction-formation, and indeed that something is being actively controlled or avoided is fairly evident; they would probably ascribe the traits to a reaction against more than one complex, repressed exhibitionism being perhaps the most prominent.

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