Michael Portillo, in a clarion call to the nation's youth, has said that joining the military cadets will develop self-discipline, self- motivation and self-esteem. He also said it would nurture the team spirit, but you couldn't help noticing the repeated emphasis on "self". This is nicely in tune with the Thatcherite conviction that we should each of us stand on our own feet, doing our own thing and generally looking after Number One. By an unusual conjunction of interests, "self-esteem" is also thought important by child guidance experts, many of whom would regard joining the military as a step back towards the dark ages.

I doubt whether the rest of us - I mean we who are not, either on the parade ground or at the clinic, engaged in sorting out other people's problems - often talk about "self-esteem", unless we are being ironic. When I hear it said of someone (Mr Portillo, say) that they have "plenty of self-esteem" I'm clear what's being hinted at. It means they're too pleased with themselves. No, we don't think much of self-esteem.

Take away the self and we think even less. There are still those who when writing to the editor refer to "your esteemed journal", but they are either very old or very facetious. Incidentally, its use in this sense would have been meaningless once. When, in the 15th century, the word came to England via France, it meant much the same as estimate, which was from the same Latin source, so in its early days the verb always needed a qualifying adverb, and the noun an adjective, esteem being high or low as the case might be. Then, for some reason hard to understand, people fairly soon started saying "esteem" when they meant "value highly", though the earlier use persisted here and there until the last century. Anyway, its serious career is pretty well over now. Too creepy altogether.

Another word for what Mr Portillo and the carers, those unlikely bedfellows, are on about? Well, even self-respect would surely be better.