8

The “Royal We” is a term to indicate that, when someone is ostensibly speaking about a group of people, they’re actually referring to themselves as an individual. Someone I know (whom I will not name for fear of incriminating myself) does quite the opposite, in that they use the word “we” to mean “everyone apart from me” or more usually “you”. For example:

• “We need to mow that lawn” means “You need to mow that lawn”

• “We ought to fix the tiles in the bathroom” meaning “Fix the tiles in the bathroom”

Is there a term for this kind of terminology? Apologies if this seems a little fatuous but I’m genuinely interested.

  • 6
    That's "the mother's 'we'". – Hot Licks Apr 25 '16 at 11:56
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    Your definition of the royal 'we' seems incorrect. The royal 'we' is not third person. It is first person. It is the use of 'we' by a speaker to refer to the speaker herself (especially if the speaker is in a high position). – GoldenGremlin Apr 25 '16 at 12:08
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    @HotLicks I don't think so. It's called the "royal we" for a reason, the use of the first person plural pronoun. It doesn't mean the third person (he/she/it/they) either. It means I. – deadrat Apr 25 '16 at 12:28
  • We is indeed, a first person pronoun. My embarrassment at having using it incorrectly is matched only by my beauty. Take that how you will. :) – Dave M Apr 25 '16 at 12:31
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    Answer here: The patronizing "we". – feetwet Jul 19 '16 at 1:16
4

I have always heard of this as the "military" we. As in, an officer will say "we need to take that hill" meaning the enlisted people, and not the officer, need to take the hill.

Wikipedia calls this the "dictorial we".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We

The dictorial "we"

The dictorial we is similar to both the editorial and author's "we" but more commonly used in spousal conversations or relating to them. More often used by one person having or showing a tendency to tell people what to do in an autocratic way. Take for example the following portion of a conversation:

  • As soon as we get the rest of the brick work done (in progress) this is part of the plan...

This person is using the dictorial "we" and implying that the other will be doing the work and that they are currently behind and has more waiting afterwards. This form looks nicer and comes across as being less harsh.

1

There is no special term for this use of we, because there is nothing grammatically or semantically peculiar about it.

‘We need to mow the lawn’ does not mean ‘You need to mow the lawn’. What it means is something like ‘Our family, considered as a group, has the responsibility for mowing the lawn’. Given that the speaker is a member of that group, there is nothing unusual about using we for it. The meaning of the utterance does not specify how the family will discharge this collective responsibility, that is, to whom it will allocate the execution of the physical actions of mowing. It leaves it open whether that will be this or that member of the family, or perhaps somebody from a commercial lawn-mowing service that the family may choose to engage.

Of course, it is possible that when somebody in a particular family says ‘We need to mow the lawn’, there will be an expectation that one specific member of the family (perhaps the one who has always done it before) will do the physical mowing. That is, however, a matter of the practices established within that family; it is not a matter of the meaning of English words.

Similarly, to use the example that appears in another answer on this page, when an officer says ‘We need to take that hill’, he means something like ‘Our unit (considered collectively) needs to take that hill’. Given that the officer is a member of the unit, there is nothing unusual about his referring to the unit as we. The officer does not by this sentence say anything as to which members of the unit will perform which specific actions; that will be specified by the commands that will follow.

0

Since Google returns nothing immediately helpful, I will take this opportunity to coin the soon-to-be-universally-accepted wifely 'we'.

Husbands will generally be gauche enough to simply state that someone should specifically address the issue at hand, whereas the wifely 'we' recognizes that we are all in this together. The OP husband is apparently confused by the intended politeness of the phrasing: Yes, of course, you should be the one to actually handle retiling of the bathroom but you both know that. (You did know that, right?) The phrasing emphasizes that she is there with you in spirit and, after all, isn't it the thought (and phrasing) that counts?

  • 1
    Why not the husbandly we? There is no gender limitation on disingenuously expressing and projecting expectations, unreasonable or otherwise. – bib Apr 25 '16 at 13:54
  • Of course there is no gender limitation on disingenuity. That said, the obvious answer is because there is no connection between your descriptive adjective and the subject you're attempting to describe. If you're really having difficulty with gender and identity, work through this brief instructional video. If you're just objecting to my and OP's and Hot Licks's lived experience of this phenomenon, compile or link to some contradictory evidence. – lly Apr 25 '16 at 14:11
  • I never said it was my wife! You're not going to trick me into admitting that! I like the concept of being together in spirit but separate in effort. That pretty much sums it up. If "selfie" can make it into the OED, I think "Wifely we" should have no problem. – Dave M Apr 25 '16 at 14:31
  • "I never said..." And here we see the importance of phrasing yet again. ; ) See, it really is you (two) who were tiling that bathroom all along. Sorry I couldn't find you (two) a term with a longer provenance but better understanding is what we (read: you) were really looking for all along. – lly Apr 25 '16 at 14:50
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    I think if we were to tap into the NSA's listening devices installed in all US homes, and process all the data through IBM's Watson, we would discover that it is the mother that uses "we" to mean "you" more than anyone else. – Hot Licks Apr 25 '16 at 18:37
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The exclusive we sounds like what you're looking for. It means I, and some other people, but not you, while the inclusive means you, me, and maybe some others.

More generally, clusivity refers to whether a given pronoun includes or excludes an entity.

  • 1
    I see where you're going with those but neither is quite right, as the term needs to specifically exclude the -speaker-. – Dave M Apr 25 '16 at 10:24
  • @DaveM In fact, doesn't it need to specifically include only the spoken to? This is somewhat different from the usage discussed here:english.stackexchange.com/questions/17964/… – deadrat Apr 25 '16 at 12:36
  • It's certainly a very similar case to the patronizing "we", although in this usage it's not meant to be patronizing. It does refer to much the same subset of the audience, though. – Dave M Apr 25 '16 at 12:44
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    Not sure why this is upvoted, but not enough rep to downvote yet. (Any help?) It describes something close to precisely opposite of what was being asked. – lly Apr 25 '16 at 13:16

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