First-person plural used for condescension

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First-person plural used for condescension

Postby tastyonions » Mon Mar 06, 2017 1:23 pm

In English, the first person plural is often used in a certain way when the speaker holds a position superior to the person being addressed. For example, a teacher might ask a student, "Did we do our homework last night?" Often, as in this case (the teacher presumably had no homework), the speaker is not actually referring to himself or herself. This is a usage that also appears in French and (I just learned) German as well.

How frequent is this usage in the languages that you know or are learning?
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Re: First-person plural used for condescension

Postby reineke » Mon Mar 06, 2017 5:18 pm

"In English, the condescending nature of the first person plural to refer to the addressee is such that, under certain general conditions, ..."

Universals of Human Language: Word structure
edited by Joseph Harold Greenberg, Charles Albert Ferguson, Edith A. Moravcsik

We


STEVEN BONNER
By BEN ZIMMER
OCTOBER 1, 2010
Theodore Rockwell, who served as technical director for the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-propulsion program in the 1950s and ’60s, shared a telling anecdote about his onetime boss, the famously irascible Adm. Hyman G. Rickover. “One time he caught me using the editorial we, as in ‘we will get back to you by. . . .’ ” Rockwell recalled in his memoir, “The Rickover Effect.” “He explained brusquely that only three types of individual were entitled to such usage: ‘The head of a sovereign state, a schizophrenic and a pregnant woman. Which are you, Rockwell?’ ”

Rickover was hardly alone in his abhorrence of the editorial we — so called because of its usage by anonymous opinion columnists. In fact, his barb has been told in many different ways over the years. Consider another volatile personality, Roscoe Conkling, who served as senator from New York after the Civil War. In 1877, Conkling objected to how the new president, Rutherford B. Hayes, overused the word we, and The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported his rejoinder: “Yes, I have noticed there are three classes of people who always say ‘we’ instead of ‘I.’ They are emperors, editors and men with a tapeworm.”

Conkling’s formulation was picked up by we-haters far and wide. The trifecta of “kings, editors and people with tapeworm” has been widely attributed to Mark Twain, but like so many witticisms credited to him, there’s no record he ever said it. It’s also unlikely that Henry David Thoreau ever made the remark once ascribed to him: “We is used by royalty, editors, pregnant women and people who eat worms.”

Worms, or more specifically tapeworms, figure prominently in we-­related humor. The earliest known joke to combine parasites and pronouns comes from George Horatio Derby, a humorist from California who assumed the pen name John Phoenix. “I do not think I have a tapeworm,” he wrote in 1855, “therefore I have no claim whatever to call myself ‘we,’ and I shall by no means fall into that editorial absurdity.”

What is it about the presumptuous use of we that inspires so much outrage, facetious or otherwise? The roots of these adverse reactions lie in the haughtiness of the majestic plural, or royal we, shared by languages of Western Europe since the days of ancient Roman emperors. British sovereigns have historically referred to themselves in the plural, but by the time of Queen Victoria, it was already a figure of fun. Victoria, of course, is remembered for the chilly line, “We are not amused” — her reaction, according to Sir Arthur Helps, the clerk of the privy council, to his telling of a joke to the ladies in waiting at a royal dinner party.

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/m ... age-t.html

Why we can be you: The use of 1st person plural forms with hearer reference in English and Spanish

https://www.researchgate.net/publicatio ... nd_Spanish

French

L'infantilisation des personnes âgées ou le parler condescendant | EVOLUTE ...
EVOLUTE Conseil › fr › relation-aide
La condescendance infantilise...
"l' utilisation de pronoms collectifs (« on est prêt pour notre ..."

https://www.evolute.fr/relation-aide/in ... nnes-agees

Ce parler « personnes âgées » se caractérise par un rythme plus lent, une intonation exagérée, un ton de voix de hauteur élevée, un volume plus fort, de nombreuses répétitions, un vocabulaire et une grammaire simplifiés, l’utilisation de diminutifs (« mémé », « papy »…), la présence de petites questions ajoutées à la fin d'une phrase («…, n’est-ce pas ? »), l’utilisation de pronoms collectifs (« on est prêt pour notre bain ») ou encore l’adoption du tutoiement (Caporael, 1981).

http://www.mythe-alzheimer.org/article- ... 32348.html

Faut-il tutoyer les élèves?
http://enseigner.blog.lemonde.fr/2014/0 ... es-eleves/

Vietnamese
Chúng is used with all three grammatical persons (first, second, or third) to express either humbleness, friendliness, or condescension.
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Re: First-person plural used for condescension

Postby Tomás » Mon Mar 06, 2017 8:57 pm

I have heard on the "Notes in Spanish" podcast that in Spain, use of the formal second person can carry a similar meaning.
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Re: First-person plural used for condescension

Postby vogeltje » Mon Mar 06, 2017 9:39 pm

I heard as well that when Queen Victoria was angry or annoyed she said "we are not amused" so I think that it's famous that she said it, so it can't be that many people said it.
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Re: First-person plural used for condescension

Postby Alphathon » Mon Mar 06, 2017 11:53 pm

vogeltje wrote:I heard as well that when Queen Victoria was angry or annoyed she said "we are not amused" so I think that it's famous that she said it, so it can't be that many people said it.
That usage is separate and is known as the "royal we". In that case the "we" is used in place of "I", not "you".
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Re: First-person plural used for condescension

Postby Serafín » Tue Mar 07, 2017 1:50 am

tastyonions wrote:In English, the first person plural is often used in a certain way when the speaker holds a position superior to the person being addressed. For example, a teacher might ask a student, "Did we do our homework last night?" Often, as in this case (the teacher presumably had no homework), the speaker is not actually referring to himself or herself. This is a usage that also appears in French and (I just learned) German as well.

How frequent is this usage in the languages that you know or are learning?

In Spanish I've only ever heard it in the context of teachers talking to students in primary school. And even then it's infrequent.
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Re: First-person plural used for condescension

Postby vogeltje » Tue Mar 07, 2017 9:53 pm

Alphathon wrote:
vogeltje wrote:I heard as well that when Queen Victoria was angry or annoyed she said "we are not amused" so I think that it's famous that she said it, so it can't be that many people said it.


That usage is separate and is known as the "royal we". In that case the "we" is used in place of "I", not "you".


Thanks for the explanation and nice link Alphathon, but you and the three who voted for you who are olim21, galaxyrocker and ingrae∂ can stop telling me off for talking about a separate usage or change the topic becasue I was answering reineke's post:

reineke wrote:
What is it about the presumptuous use of we that inspires so much outrage, facetious or otherwise? The roots of these adverse reactions lie in the haughtiness of the majestic plural, or royal we, shared by languages of Western Europe since the days of ancient Roman emperors. British sovereigns have historically referred to themselves in the plural, but by the time of Queen Victoria, it was already a figure of fun. Victoria, of course, is remembered for the chilly line, “We are not amused” — her reaction, according to Sir Arthur Helps, the clerk of the privy council, to his telling of a joke to the ladies in waiting at a royal dinner party.



and I know that ingraed's d is a differernt letter but I can't find the correct one on my laptop.
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Re: First-person plural used for condescension

Postby Ingaræð » Tue Mar 07, 2017 10:25 pm

vogeltje wrote:
Alphathon wrote:
vogeltje wrote:I heard as well that when Queen Victoria was angry or annoyed she said "we are not amused" so I think that it's famous that she said it, so it can't be that many people said it.


That usage is separate and is known as the "royal we". In that case the "we" is used in place of "I", not "you".


Thanks for the explanation and nice link Alphathon, but you and the three who voted for you who are olim21, galaxyrocker and ingrae∂ can stop telling me off for talking about a separate usage or change the topic becasue I was answering reineke's post:


:?:

I 'liked' Alphathon's post because I thought that what s/he wrote was a useful piece of information, particularly for non-native speakers of English. I can't see where anyone has told you off for anything...? I certainly haven't.

and I know that ingraed's d is a differernt letter but I can't find the correct one on my laptop.


I find it's easiest to copy and paste people's usernames. And that's not criticism, I'm just sharing a tip. :)
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Re: First-person plural used for condescension

Postby Alphathon » Wed Mar 08, 2017 12:15 am

vogeltje wrote:
Alphathon wrote:
vogeltje wrote:I heard as well that when Queen Victoria was angry or annoyed she said "we are not amused" so I think that it's famous that she said it, so it can't be that many people said it.
That usage is separate and is known as the "royal we". In that case the "we" is used in place of "I", not "you".


Thanks for the explanation and nice link Alphathon, but you and the three who voted for you who are olim21, galaxyrocker and ingrae∂ can stop telling me off for talking about a separate usage or change the topic becasue I was answering reineke's post:
reineke wrote:What is it about the presumptuous use of we that inspires so much outrage, facetious or otherwise? The roots of these adverse reactions lie in the haughtiness of the majestic plural, or royal we, shared by languages of Western Europe since the days of ancient Roman emperors. British sovereigns have historically referred to themselves in the plural, but by the time of Queen Victoria, it was already a figure of fun. Victoria, of course, is remembered for the chilly line, “We are not amused” — her reaction, according to Sir Arthur Helps, the clerk of the privy council, to his telling of a joke to the ladies in waiting at a royal dinner party.
I'm sorry if it came off as me telling you off as that certainly wasn't my intention - I was just trying to be informative.

I have to admit I only skimmed Reineke's post (it's a little on the long side) so I must have missed that part. As such I totally misunderstood what you meant. Regardless, (having now read it properly) I think my point applies to that post as well, i.e. that using "we" in place of "I" (as in the royal we or the editorial we) is separate from using "we" for "you" as described in the OP. The linked paper (in English) might be relevant however (I've only read the abstract).

vogeltje wrote:and I know that ingraed's d is a differernt letter but I can't find the correct one on my laptop.
For future reference ð is a letter known in Icelandic as "eth", in Faroese as "edd" and in Old English as "ðæt" (thaet). The Wikipedia article on it has info on how to enter it on Windows and OS X.
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Re: First-person plural used for condescension

Postby tractor » Wed Mar 08, 2017 4:50 pm

This usage is occasionally found in Norwegian too. An example would be a doctor asking a patient "Hvordan har vi det i dag?" (= How are we today?).
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