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Is using the phrase "most pleased" considered pompous or condescending?

I am most pleased to extend the invitation to so-and-so...

This was used in a formal dinner invitation sent to a relative of mine, who is a traditionalist in his usage of English. He was discussing it with me and thought that the writer overdid it with "most pleased". He even suggested it made the the writer sound like royalty.

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    To some extent this will be opinion-based, but you haven't provided enough context for me to even venture an opinion. What kind of invitation is it, and to what kind of event? Who are the parties, what is their general relationship, how formal are they are to each other, and how typical is this invitation? I wouldn't think twice about such wording in, say, a wedding invitation, but if a co-worker used such language in an IM inviting me out to lunch, I would have to assume she was joking.
    – choster
    Apr 6, 2015 at 22:30

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To my ear, "pompous" language frequently correlates with using unnecessary words, or using complicated synonyms of simple words.
Compare: "It is my pleasure to invite you to the party" vs "I am most pleased to extend you an invitation to attend the party".

As other answers have noted, there are appropriate situations for both.

Some further thoughts on this specific example:

"It's my pleasure to..." is a common phrase if you want to be polite.
"I am pleased to..." is also common.
"I am most pleased to..." is NOT commonly used conversationally.

Just some guesses on why this sounds pompous:

  1. Most of the time "being pleased" is binary: either "I am pleased" or "I am displeased".

  2. Comparing different degrees of the adjective pleased is weird; there are better options. It's not actually incorrect to say "I'm more pleased with the iPhone than I was with the Android" but it's IMO better to say "I prefer the iPhone to the Android."

  3. Because "I am most pleased" is not a common construction, the listener has to do a little bit extra mental work to figure out the meaning (as opposed to using a colloquialism that the listener already knows)

So, IMO, the best phrase for the speaker to A) extend a polite invitation, B) indicate that he is exceptionally happy to invite you, and C) avoid sounding pompous, is:

"It is my great pleasure to invite you..."

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It implies that the writer is attempting to be formal, but so long as the event is also formal, no condescension need be read into it.

'I am most pleased to invite you to the Library's 50th Anniversary Gala' is perfectly appropriate.

'I am most pleased to invite you to Timmy's fourth grade graduation' is either condescending or snarky.

As far as trying to sound royal, the speaker is not being quite so pretentious: after all, they used 'I' rather than 'We.'

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I trust you will find this answer most1 satisfactory...

Most of us very rarely use most to mean very, except in ceremonial or facetious contexts.


1 Not wishing to stand on ceremony, I trust you'll honour the spirit of the answer, and award it more upvotes than any other! :)

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  • Most kind of you to include an explanatory note there. ;-) Apr 7, 2015 at 12:33
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    @Janus: You are most gracious. I did think about expounding on the difference between ceremonial and formal, because I think it's not at all normal to use the personal pronoun I in a ceremonial invitation. You'd identify yourself by your title, such as The Lord Mayor of London is most pleased to invite you.... But in the end I decided that's a separate ELU question; for the present context, less is more. Apr 7, 2015 at 12:56
  • In those cases, you might even sign off as your most humble servant! Apr 7, 2015 at 12:57

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