Moundsbar Connections—Metalleus SpecGram Vol CLII, No 2 Contents TLAs DOA? TBD!—Claude Searsplainpockets

The First/Second Singular/Plural

Everyone knows the word we. Grammatically it is first-person plural.

1st PersonIWe
2nd PersonYouYou
3rd PersonHe, She, ItThey

Simple, right? But there’s something “they”
내 호버크라프트는 장어로
가득 차 있어요
— Korean
never taught you in Grammar School. Sometimes we means “you and I,” and other times we means “I and others, but not you.” Isn’t language fun!?

The distinction is called “inclusivity” or “exclusivity.” In English, the word we is ambiguous, leading to occasional confusion or misinterpretation. Some languages have different words to mean the two different things: e.g., Indonesian kita/kami, Vietnamese chungta/chungtoi. English just has the one ambiguous word, we.

Queen Elizabeth then confused things (a little bit) with the “Royal we,” meaning “I, and no others, and not you” ... still first-person, but singular instead of plural.

But today there is a new we in common usage: the “Employer we,” meaning “not I, but you.” It serves only in certain circumstances. For example, if the boss wants to say, “Not I, but you,
A légpárnás hajóm tele
van angolnákkal
— Hungarian
completely screwed up this project,” he would never say “We screwed up this project.” However, if he wants to say, “Not I, but you, better get busy on [whatever dirty job],” he will of course usually say, “We better get busy on [the dirty job].” Instead of first-person plural, employers use it as always second-person and sometimes (but not always) singular.

We (you and I both) can call this new word the “first-second-person plural-sometimes-singular.”

Enjoy! or Beware! (Depending on who your boss is.)

—Christopher Wood

Moundsbar Connections—Metalleus
TLAs DOA? TBD!—Claude Searsplainpockets
SpecGram Vol CLII, No 2 Contents