Thursday, July 13, 2017


I have come to hate the word "we".

It is a word that seems particularly used quite often in our modern, team oriented society. "We need to do this", "we need to get complete this", "we want this" - you would think from this that "we" tend to do all activities together.

Why have I come to hate it?  Because it does not mean what it used to.

Once upon a time, "we"  meant "us" - as in "all of us about whom I am speak".  It was, in that sense, truly a "group" term.  Now, more often than not, it seems "we"  means "you".

"We need to do this"  really means "you need to make sure that this happens".  "We need to complete this" often means "this needs to be done, and I am sure not doing it."  And "we want"?  This actually more often means "I want, but it sounds less selfish if I say we".

It has become an absolution for responsibility.  By saying "we" I absolve myself from having to take action.  I have announced that action needs to be taken - but by speaking it and including you, I have effectively transferred the responsibility of the action off of me and onto you (see the now famous phrase "We talked about this, right?"

It a thing is we - truly as a group - then keep we. Otherwise, have the intellectually honesty to say "you".  It will not make what is being suggested any more palatable or pleasant, but at least the desired party to take action will be quite clear.


WL Emery said...

You nailed it.

I rarely use the word 'we', and when I do I use it in the traditional context, referring to a group of people, all inclusive. I particularly dislike the popular 'we need to...'. I have been known to interrupt the speaker in mid-screed and ask just who the 'we' is that he's referring to. If I don't get a satisfactory answer, which is often the case, I'll wait for the next occurrence and ask if the speaker has a mouse in his pocket. That usually slows them down a little.

PeteForester1 said...

Y'right, TB; "we" is a reverse-engineering of the mob mentality. A person can use the anonymity of the mob to do things he or she could never get away with flying solo. Using "we,"that same person can get away with NOT doing something he or she WOULD have to do if flying solo.

"We must get Trump out of office," muttered by a loony lib celebrity, means "One of you with more balls than myself; DO SOMETHING!" It doesn't work for them though, as none of them actually "have a pair..."

...So they go for the mob thing...

Glen Filthie said...

I used to get burned by mealy mouthed managers that talked like that all the time - the kind of guys that manage by kissing up and kicking down. The best counter is as WL states. When I am dealing with a mealy mouthed double talker I will courteously wait until I understand what he wants and what I have to do - and then 'just to make sure I understood him correctly' I will repeat my instructions as I understand them in plain English. If I am really concerned about the integrity of who I'm dealing with, and consequences merit - I will do that in writing.

Being honest and blunt puts the fear of God into mealy mouths. At least, that has been my experience.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Glen and WL: You make a very good point. So many have become so accustomed to speaking that way that they do it unconsciously. It reminds me a little of Atlas Shrugged where Hank Rearden is being confronted and when they say "We'll fix it" his response is "Who will?"

Pete - Yes, that is the other side of the coin. People speak in hopes that someone else belongs to the "we" being spoken of, that they will take the action encouraged. It is a dangerous thing.