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The "imperial we" is when the Queen of England uses the word "we" in situations that a speaker/writer would normally use the word "I".

From Merriam Webster, second definition of we: "used by sovereigns —used by writers to keep an impersonal character".

Here is the wikipedia page on it also if anyone's curious.

What is the etymology of this practice? Which queen of England first started using it and why? I have had difficulty finding any source on this.

Edit: someone has linked to this as a possible duplicate; however it has no additional information on the etymology that I have already linked to (which is the wiki on the royal we).

All the wiki page says is that "William Longchamp is credited with its introduction to England in the late 12th century, following the practice of the Chancery of Apostolic Briefs."

So William Longchamp isn't really the origin of the concept, but the Chancery of Apostolic Briefs is. Does anyone know anything more?

  • Have you tried searching on the site? Etymology is only for words, not phrases. – Lambie Jul 10 '18 at 15:59
  • It's just one word - "we". I say "imperial we" to distinguish between the different definitions of the word "we" and that's why I also mentioned that it's the second definition in the merriam webster link. And yes I have tried searching on the site. Let me know if there's anything I can do to improve my post as it is my first one on this particular SE site. – levininja Jul 10 '18 at 16:01
  • I changed the title of the question to have qoutes around just "we' instead of "imperial we"; hopefully that helps clarify it? – levininja Jul 10 '18 at 16:03
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    Possible duplicate of The Royal We: Who are "we"? – Jason Bassford Jul 10 '18 at 16:05
  • The reason that question was suggested is that you have asked in the question title and tags for the etymology — which is what the other question does (and isn't answered). You have another question here about its first use, which is not etymology. – Andrew Leach Jul 10 '18 at 19:23
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we (pronoun)

The "royal we" (use of plural pronoun to denote oneself) is at least as old as "Beowulf" (c.725); use by writers to establish an impersonal style is also from Old English; it was especially common 19c. in unsigned editorials, to suggest staff consensus, and was lampooned as such at least since 1853 (see wegotism).

wegotism (n.)

1797, from we + egotism; "an obtrusive and too frequent use of the first person plural by a speaker or writer" [OED].

Etymonline

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William Longchamp is credited with introducing the "Royal We" to England in the late 12th century, following the practice of the Chancery of Apostolic Briefs. According to this Grammarist entry Henry the Second is the first British monarch reported to have used it.

The first recorded usage of "We" to refer to the user and those they are in charge of appears to be Biblical, used by God.

Per your own Wikipedia reference the first use of the term "Royal We" appears date to 4th century AD Byzantium before then the construct didn't have a formal name.

  • Thanks for your answer! The grammarist entry was very enlightening. – levininja Jul 10 '18 at 16:23
  • @Mari-LouA Yup so's everything else except the Grammarist entry and that page pops as soon as you Google "Royal We", that's why I downvoted the question. – Ash Jul 10 '18 at 16:54
  • Might be nice to have a reference that supports the last piece of information. I deleted my previous comment when I read the Grammarist page, which is significantly different from Wikipedia's. – Mari-Lou A Jul 10 '18 at 17:18
  • @Mari-LouA Is that update a sufficient reference? – Ash Jul 10 '18 at 18:11
  • Yes, it's clearer now where you found this information. – Mari-Lou A Jul 10 '18 at 18:14

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