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Atypical uses of we
A nosism is the use of 'we' to refer to oneself.
The royal "we"
The editorial "we"
The editorial we is a similar phenomenon, in which editorial columnists in newspapers and similar commentators in other media refer to themselves as we when giving their opinions. Here, the writer has once more cast himself or herself in the role of spokesman: either for the media institution who employs him, or more generally on behalf of the party or body of citizens who agree with the commentary.
Similar to the editorial we is the practice common in scientific literature of referring to a generic third person by we (instead of the more common one or the informal you):
- By adding three and five, we obtain eight.
- We are thus led also to a definition of "time" in physics. — Albert Einstein
"We" in this sense often refers to "the reader and the author", since the author often assumes that the reader knows certain principles or previous theorems for the sake of brevity (or, if not, the reader is prompted to look them up), for example, so that the author does not need to explicitly write out every step of a mathematical proof.
The patronizing "we"
The patronizing we is used sometimes in place of "you" to address a second party, hinting a facetious assurance that the one asked is not alone in his situation, that "I am with you, we are in this together". A doctor may ask a patient: And how are we feeling today? This usage is emotionally non-neutral and usually bears a condescending, ironic, praising, or some other flavor, depending on intonation: "Aren't we looking cute?".
Inclusive and exclusive we
Some languages, in particular the Austronesian languages, Dravidian languages, and others such as Min Nan and some dialects of Mandarin Chinese, have a distinction in grammatical person between inclusive we, which includes the person being spoken to in the group identified as we, and exclusive we, which excludes the person being spoken to.
About half of Native American languages have this grammatical distinction, regardless of the languages' families. Cherokee, for instance, distinguishes between four forms of "we", following an additional distinction between duality and plurality. The four Cherokee forms of "we" are: "you and I (inclusive dual)"; "another and I (exclusive dual)"; "others and I (exclusive plural)"; and "you, another (or others), and I" (inclusive plural). Fijian goes even further with six words for "we", with three numbers — dual, small group (three or four people), and large group — and separate inclusive and exclusive forms for each number.
In English this distinction is not made through grammatically different forms of we, but rather indirectly, for example through explicitly inclusive phrasing ("we all") or through inclusive "let's". The phrase "let us eat" is ambiguous: it may exclude the addressee, as a request to be left alone to eat, or it may include the addressee, as an invitation to come and eat, together. The latter usage is informal, however, and its contracted form "let's eat" can only be inclusive.
- We can all go to the villain's lair today.
- We mean to stop your evil plans!
- Baker, Peter S. 'Pronouns'. In Peter S. Baker. The Electronic Introduction to Old English. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003, c. 5.
|Look up we in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Look up our in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Look up ours in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|