What's in It for Me: Definition, Meaning and Origin

Last Updated on
June 6, 2023

The phrase "what's in it for me?" expresses a person's concern about how they will benefit or profit from a particular situation or transaction. It highlights the speaker's self-interest and desire to gain something for themselves.

In short:

"What's in it for me" means inquiring about the potential rewards, benefits, or advantages to oneself in a given scenario.

What Does "What's in It for Me" Mean?

The phrase implies a question about the personal gains or advantages one might obtain from a particular situation or action. When you say, "what's in it for me?" you're asking what personal benefits or rewards you'll get from a task or transaction.

Let's delve into its core meanings and related expressions:

  • It signifies an inquiry about personal benefits or rewards.
  • People often use this phrase when negotiating, bartering, or in give-and-take situations.
  • Sometimes, it's a way to express doubt about the value of doing something or making a commitment.

Where Does "What's in It for Me" Come From?

The phrase is a common expression in business and marketing, but it is also applicable in everyday conversation. The phrase is thought to have originated in the early 1900s, but it became more popular in the 1970s with the rise of self-help and motivational literature.

Historical Example

"I said a while ago that I thought the questions asked most in our culture were 'Who gets what?' and 'What's in it for me?' I think there are other questions that ought to be asked."

- The Climate of Book Selection, University of California, 1959

10 Examples of "What's in It for Me" in Sentences

Here are some examples of using the idiom in sentences:

  • Put yourself in my shoes. Is it wrong to ask, "what's in it for me?"
  • He was reluctant to lend a hand until he knew what was in it for him.
  • Don't just ping me asking silly questions; tell me what's in it for me.
  • As she reviewed the contract, she asked herself, "What's in it for me?"
  • He said he would help, but only after asking, "What's in it for me?"
  • Your car got repoed, but what's in it for me if I help you?
  • Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, but what's in it for me? Why should I join the trend?
  • They hesitated before signing the deal, wondering, "What's in it for us?"
  • Before I commit my time and energy, I need to know what's in it for me.
  • Good on you for getting half of the deal, but what's in it for me?

Examples of "What's in It for Me" in Pop Culture

The phrase "what's in it for me" frequently appears in media, particularly in movies or TV shows featuring negotiation, bargaining, or power dynamics.

Let's look at some examples:

  • "What's in it for Me?" is a song by the Swedish pop duo Amy Diamond, reflecting a self-interested perspective in a relationship.
  • A passage from the book "Managing Business Ethics & Compliance" uses the phrase: "They only think, 'What's in it for me?' and 'Can I get away with it?' There are certain traps that exist for conducting unethical behavior because, at any given moment in time, people experience impulses that motivate them to act."

Other/Different Ways to Say "What's in It for Me"

There are several alternative expressions that convey a similar meaning to "what's in it for me."

Some of these include:

  • What do I get out of this?
  • What's my benefit?
  • What do I stand to gain?
  • What's my advantage?
  • What's my return on this?
  • How will I gain/benefit from this?
  • What's my incentive?
  • Why should I bother?
  • How is this worth my while?

You can use these alternatives interchangeably depending on the context and the level of personal interest or gain involved.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "What's in It for Me":

  • What does "what's in it for me" mean?

"What's in it for me" is a question that signifies interest in personal benefit or gain from a situation, task, or transaction.

  • How can I use "what's in it for me" in a sentence?

You can use "what's in it for me" to express interest in personal gain or benefit from a situation. For example, "Before I help with this project, I want to know, what's in it for me?"

  • Where does the phrase "what's in it for me" come from?

The phrase is a modern idiom in English, reflecting transactional interactions where mutual benefit is often a prerequisite for cooperation.

  • Does the phrase imply a selfish attitude?

It can, although it can also just reflect practical considerations about personal benefit or reward.

  • Is the phrase appropriate in formal contexts?

Yes, it can be used in both formal and informal contexts, although its usage should be appropriate to the situation.

  • Is it negative to use this phrase?

Not necessarily. While it may suggest self-interest, it can also reflect a reasonable concern for personal gain or benefit.

  • Can the phrase be used in a non-business context?

Yes, the phrase can be used in a variety of contexts, not just business or transactional settings.

  • Is it commonly used in negotiations?

Yes, it is often used in negotiations to evaluate personal gain or benefit.

  • Can "what's in it for me" be used in friendships?

While it can be used in any context, using it in friendships might come across as selfish or transactional unless the context makes it clear that it's used humorously or ironically.

  • Is there a difference between "what's in it for me" and "what do I get out of this"?

There's no significant difference between the two. Both phrases inquire about personal gain or benefit from a situation or transaction.

Final Thoughts About "What's in It for Me"

 The phrase "what's in it for me" highlights an interest in personal benefit or gain. It is used to inquire about the potential benefits or rewards that one may derive from a situation, action, or transaction.

Here's a quick recap:

  • It is used to ask about personal gain or benefit from a situation or transaction.
  • The phrase is of Modern English origin, reflecting transactional interactions.
  • It can be used in various contexts, revealing its versatility and applicability.

If someone asks "what's in it for me," they're seeking to understand the benefits they might receive. While it might sometimes come across as self-interested, it also reflects a practical desire to understand personal gains or benefits.

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