The disappeared we 

Rosie Right

In conjunction with the weekend of celebrations for the 75th anniversary of the New Yorker, the New York Times ran an article about the disappearance of the pronoun we in the Talk of the Town. The we for years stood for several of the regular writers like E.B. White and James Thurber, and it reflected the arch tone Talk often projected. We is now gone from the department, but reading about this inspired Rosie to look up we in several reference books. This simple little word is more complicated than one would think.

The dictionaries tell us that we can be used to refer to several people collectively; as the editorial we which refers to a collection of individuals whose opinion is being expressed collectively; the royal we (the most famous example of which is Queen Victoria's pronouncement, "We are not amused"); the editorial we used as a mannerism (see The New Yorker); the horribly patronizing we often used to children and patients in a hospital ("We will take our pills now, won't we?"); and the uneducated sounding we used in place of I. Webster's Dictionary of English Usage gives this example of the usage: "What makes we New Yorkers sore is to think they should try and wish a law like that on us" - Ring Lardner. Finally, Webster's tells us that "In some dialects of English, we has captured even more ground. A calypso by Lord Kitchener has this line quoted in the Trinidad Guardian, 29 Jan. 1975: 'Give we back we stadium.'" Fortunately, the reference book tells us, "It will probably be quite some time before mainstream American and British English reach that level of caselessness." That is a consummation devoutly to be desired.

From World Wide Words, an online language newsletter, comes a new word: captology. Michael Quinion, editor, says it is still rare in general language but is coming into use. This term is used largely by a group of researchers in the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University. The group studies the theory and design of the ways computing technology can be used to influence people. If you think that sounds a bit Big Brotherish, you are not altogether in error. The emphasis is on influencing people for good, for example to encourage healthy living or improve road safety, but … such methods could just as well be used for baser ends, such as persuading you to buy things, or to hand over personal data that could then be misused. … The group, led by Professor B J Fogg, is also studying the implications of the unreasoning trust that many of us put into computers because they are wrongly thought of as being unaffected by human agency. The word was coined by Professor Fogg in 1996 as a partial acronym — from the initials of 'Computers As Persuasive Technology' — plus the ending '-ology'… ."

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220), fax (358-1079) or e-mail


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