Writing for Business

Feb 15 2013   5:01PM GMT

illeism, nosism and other affectations

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
If you are prone to nosism, what do you have a tendency to do?
a. Intentionally disobey grammar rules
b. Look down on people with poor grammar
c. Speak of yourself as plural
d. Speak of yourself in the third person
e. Supply vague answers to questions

Answer: c.

If you indulge in the royal “we” (sometimes referred to as the editorial “we”), you speak of yourself as if there were more than one of you. I suppose that’s one way to self-aggrandize.

Michael Quinion writes about nosism in his entry for illeism. (Illeism — choice d, above — is referring to yourself in the third person: as not yourself, not someone you’re speaking to, but like some other person that you’re talking about.)

The plural equivalent of illeism is nosism (from Latin nos, we), referring to oneself as we, It’s often called the royal we, though it’s not much heard even from royalty these days (“We are not amused”). It can also be the editorial we, since commentators like to use it in the hope that they will sound like spokespeople for the public, or at least the organisation for which they write.

As Quinion explains, Samuel Coleridge coined these terms, as well as one that seems to have disappeared entirely:

Illeism was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1809 as the inverse of egotism, a mark of which is overuse of the pronoun I. Coleridge also invented tuism, meaning to refer to oneself as thou (on occasion people then still used thou as a familiar second-person pronoun equivalent to French tu, from which he took the name).

People don’t refer to themselves as “we” very much these days, probably aware that it would make them seem like prats of the first order. But at least people would probably understand what they meant.  Imagine if some of us were grandly referring to ourselves as “thou.” Now, that would be confusing.

Follow us/thou/me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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