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The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Nuts and Bolts: the royal we.

The royal we: or, as the particularly pompous like to call it, the majestic plural.

It's been used in England since 1169, which is a long time, but it's traditionally only used by, well, royalty, so you don't bump into it much.

The original idea is that someone using the royal we is actually speaking as two or more people; so the we might mean God-and-I, for example, or the-nation-and-I, or even all-Catholics-and-I.

It has been used by commoners, as for example Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when in 1989 she announced that 'We have become a grandmother' but it does tend to lead, as in this case, to withering scorn and accusations of insanity.

Except...I am indebted to Dave Bush for pointing out a rather different usage of the royal we that's been taken up in the USA - and by what appear to be relatively sane people, too.

This is from the television series Bewitched:

Endora: Why do I have to leave?
Nurse Kelton: [refers to Sam] Because we are about to take our nap.
Endora: "Our nap"? Are you going to climb into bed too?
Nurse Kelton: I was using the royal "we".
And was she? Well, not as I know it she wasn't.
Here's another example from
A solenoid...has been giving us problems, so I ordered a replacement and yesterday we installed it.
Okay, I was using the royal “we.” Greg installed it while I watched...and got in the way. Hey, if we’re going to use the royal we, it only makes sense to have a court jester, right?

And here's one more from The Daily Gopher:

Yes, hooptyball is still a thing we have to think about. I mean, I won't be thinking about it because I'm not letting our Jekyll and Hyde play ruin my vacation. I was using the royal "We" there. 

In these cases what is called "the royal we" is a substitute for, firstly, the-patient-for-whom-I-see-as-an-extrusion-of-myself; secondly my-close-friend-in-whose-enterprise-I took-a-close-interest; and, lastly, all-you-lot, but not me.

So there we are - or possibly, as I'm feeling a bit sensitive about the difficulties of the word we - there one finds oneself.

It's harmless enough, I suppose. But personally I think I'll leave the royal we to royalty.

I mean, they're used to looking ridiculous.

Thing Not To Use Today: the royal we. For the reasons stated above. Unless you are actually royal.

And even then I'd avoid it, if I were you.

The examples of these bizarre uses of the royal we were provided by Dave Bush. 

Thanks, Dave.



  1. The royal we is used with football teams too - "We [Arsenal] beat Napoli 2-0 last night." It is more commonly used when talking to a fan of the same team, but it's not at all unusual to say: "We're top of the league" to supporters of a different team, especially if they happen to support Tottenham. In fact, such a thought probably can't be expressed too many times. The second person plural can also be used in this context - "You're never going to get into the Champions League now you've sold Gareth Bale."

    I would say that in Arsenal's case, the use of 'we' is closest to "my-close-friend-in-whose-enterprise-I took-a-close-interest", but with Tottenham, it's more "the-patient-for-whom-I-see-as-an-extrusion-of-myself". Though perhaps an outsider would see it as more a case of "all-you-lot, but not me".

    If you are a Tottenham fan and you are offended, I'm afraid the phrase "sense of humour" is yet to be featured on the Word Den, but you'll find it in all good dictionaries.

    1. wouldn't be an Arsenal fan by any chance, would you, Anon?
      Welcome, in any case (MILLWALL!).
      I wonder, however, if the only London club that should be using the royal we is actually Queen's Park Rangers.