We've -- the new euphemism?

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 15 20:37:50 UTC 2014

On Wed, Jan 15, 2014 at 2:46 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
> In his news conference on the GWB (that is, Bridge) scandal, Gov.
> Christe used the word "I" or first person singular pronouns 273 times
> [Slate].  After some "teasing" about it, in his State of the Union
> message yesterday he used "we" or "we've" 97 times [NYTimes, today].

State of the State, you mean.

> (1)  "We['ve] is the new euphemism for "I['ve].
> (2)   Christie's ego has apparently diminished a bit.  The frequency
> of the first person (singular) in his 110-minute news conference was
> 2.48 I's/minute.  The frequency of the first person (plural) in his
> 45-minute State speech was  2.15 We's/minute.  (Do we have a term for
> a new measure of egotism?)  A decrease of about 13% -- approximately
> equal to the percent of persons recently polled whose opinion of
> Christie had decreased (16%).

Well, we're dealing with two very different rhetorical styles here.
First came the "redemption plea," as Mark Liberman terms it, with the
expected speaker-centered focus:


But the State of the State address is more, um, stately, and the
reliance on the gubernatorial "we" is not surprising. One might
consider Christie in such a context to fall into the imperial class of
the old categorization of "we"-users: "emperors, editors and men with
a tapeworm."


(Pretty sure Christie doesn't have a tapeworm. Not sure if he has a
mouse in his pocket.)


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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