Nurses, therapists, and others in similar caring roles often use "we" when talking to patients.

How are we doing today?

I'm looking for the grammatical/technical name of this mode of speaking, and especially a reference on it that I can link to.

I believe I have heard it called either "clinical we" or "therapeutic we," but I can't find resources when Googling for those terms.

  • I'd be inclined to call it the "schoolteacher's we". – Hot Licks Feb 13 '18 at 0:03
  • Definitely a duplicate. – Adam Michael Wood Feb 13 '18 at 0:12

The term patronizing we has been coined to describe this pseudo-inclusive, sometimes condescending use of the first person plural rather than the second person.

In an article I read years ago but can no longer find online, Swedish medical personnel often used the first person plural to avoid insulting older patients who would expect the use of the second person formal, which has virtually died out in Swedish. Context is everything.

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  • Thanks. Too bad the section is wikipedia [citation needed]. – Adam Michael Wood Feb 12 '18 at 23:58
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    Google shows a remarkable number of hits for the term, including an article written in German, so the term has been coined — I claim nothing beyond that — and that it's being used well beyond the Wikipedia entry. There are no hits for clinical, therapeutic, or medical we. – KarlG Feb 13 '18 at 0:01
  • On second thought, scratch the "remarkable," but it's clear the concept is being used and discussed by others. – KarlG Feb 13 '18 at 0:09
  • Including, I notice, other English SE questions with similarly accurate but frustratingly scanty citations. Ah well. – Adam Michael Wood Feb 13 '18 at 0:10
  • One could term it a type of second-person avoidance using first person plural. "Would sir care to look at a matching tie?" uses third person singular. Same avoidance, different motive. – KarlG Feb 13 '18 at 0:38

Some languages have something between a singular first person and a plural first person, called a grammatical dual.

To quote from the article,

Many languages make a distinction between singular and plural: English, for example, distinguishes between man and men, or house and houses. In some languages, in addition to such singular and plural forms, there is also a dual form, which is used when exactly two people or things are meant.

When a nurse asks "how are we doing," she may be using the grammatical dual form. As the immediate meaning ("How are you and I doing?") makes little sense, the patient immediately understands this to be an indirect way of asking how the patient is doing.

(I read this in a Mad magazine in my misspent youth, I think. "Nurse: How do we feel?" Annoyed patient: "Half and half. I feel fine, but you look awful.")

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