Saturday, December 19, 2009

With Their Noses High in the Air

It being so close to Christmas — and this post likely being the last word-of-the-week one before December 25 comes and goes — you’d think I’d try to find something holiday-related to put up. No such luck. I won’t be regurgitating the story behind mistletoe or nog or poinsettia. Instead, I’ll just be sharing with you a word that I just recently learned and thought was cool, if only as a means of saying three syllables what might otherwise need more.
nosism (NOS-iz-em) — noun: the use of we in referring to oneself
Also known as the royal we, the editorial we or the stuck-up jerkass we, the use of the this plural pronoun by an entity that’s more on the singular side — that is, too wee to be a we — seems like something you’d do to make yourself seem more powerful. The opinion of just a me is one thing, but the shared opinion of an us is a bit more threatening.

This is why nosism might be practiced by monarchs or the monarch-minded, since they would have reason to keep up the appearance of being authoritative or, as the Wikipedia page on pluralis majestatis notes, speaking on behalf of the whole country. And this is also why a newspaper editorial might be written in the plural first person, even if the text itself is typed out by just one guy: to give what’s written the weight of the entire editorial board. The trouble is, of course, that anyone with a brain is wise to this practice, so rather than making the we-speaker seem like a bigger deal, he just seems like a bigger dick, especially when taken out of the royal and newspaper contexts. It’s also noted on the Wikipedia page that we can also be used in an educational sense — “If we add three plus three, we get six.” — and a patronizing one — “How are we feeling today?” as a doctor might ask —

As noted on A.Word.A.Day, nosism comes from the Latin nos, meaning “we.” Whee.

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