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the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Wed Nov 03, 2004 10:08 pm
by Archived Topic
Does anyone know the origin of the phrase the royal "you", meaning a global you, not a single person?
Submitted by ( - )

the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Wed Nov 03, 2004 10:22 pm
by Archived Reply
I have never heard of the ‘the royal you,’ nor does it appear in any references I’ve checked, but if it is used, it is obviously a step relative and borrowed usage of ‘the royal we.’ The ‘royal we’ is the use of ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ by a single person, as traditionally used by a sovereign. So as an extension of this I assume ‘the royal you’ would mean rather than the singular ‘you,’ the plural ‘you,’ the group you. The term ‘the exclusive you,’ on the other hand, does appear in usage guides and is defined as a group ‘you’ that applies to a particular audience (e.g. “if you are writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, it’s probably safe to use ‘you’ to mean ‘doctors.”).
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THE ROYAL WE: The first person plural used by a person with supreme authority, or, in modern times, sometimes to preserve anonymity. Supposedly, the first king to use ‘we’ in this way was Richard I in the Charter to Winchester (1190). “We are not amused” is a rebuke often attributed to straightlaced Queen Victoria. In the 20th century, magazines and newspapers frequently use the ‘editorial we’ to express an opinion that may in fact be shared by no one but the writer. Lisa Alther expressed an opinion about that in her novel ‘Kinflicks’ (1979): “She had learnt . . . that it is impossible to discuss issues civilly with a person who insisted on referring to himself as ‘we.’’ (Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés)
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One of the reasons, I think, ‘you’ might not hear to much about the ‘royal you’ is that it is almost impossible to distinguish it from the personal you. If a commander says to a group of soldiers ‘YOU must go forth and give it your all,’ who can tell if he means the individual soldier, the singular ‘you,’ or the group plural ‘you.’ Maybe the southerners in the U.S. solved this problem with the invention of ‘you-all’ and some of my less literate N.Y.C. buddies with ‘youse.’ (<:)
<1989 “Mrs. Margaret Thatcher informed the world with regal panache yesterday that her daughter-in-law had given birth to a son. ‘WE have become a grandmother,’ the Prime Minister said.”—The Times, 4 March>
(Garner’s Modern American Usage)
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Ken G – April 8, 2004
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)

the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Wed Nov 03, 2004 10:37 pm
by Archived Reply
Sorry, I don't know why my name doesn't appear. I'm Kate Johnston, from Bellevue, Washington.

Some friends and I are discussing this, and one of them found the following links where the royal you is used in the text:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3AJohn_Kerry

"I'm just trying to clue people in to the fact that there are
other perspectives than what you read in the press and I'm trying to let you
("royal you"--not only you personally) know that the..."

http://www.forwardproductions.com/ftose/022503.html

"How many times and how much money will it take for you (the royal
you, of course) to realize that time and effort is required on
the internet to make a go of it?"

http://www.songnet.org/members/guest/bo ... erant.html

"Can we do all of that? When I say "you" I am saying the "royal" you."

http://www.livejournal.com/users/thefer ... ad=8098934

" You (the royal 'you', not you personally
Ferrett) have 500 people on your friends list?"

Kate
Reply from ( - )

Re: the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Thu Apr 09, 2015 7:36 pm
by NathanWarden
I don't usually necro threads, but seeing that this is the very first result that popped up in my search engine, it really should have a proper answer. So, here's it is:

The nice thing is that it's really pretty simple actually. In the King's English, such as is found in the King James Bible, any second person pronoun that starts with a 't' is singular and any that start with a 'y' is plural.

So the word 'you', in the Royal form of English, was plural. If you wanted to use a singular form you would use a 't' word such as 'thee' or 'thou'.

John 3:7
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

When Jesus says "thee", he's talking directly to Nicodemus (singular). When he says "ye" he's talking to everybody (plural). So he told Nicodemus (thee) that everyone (ye) must be born again.

Also as a side note, with very little exception, people actually spoke modern English in the 1600's, but the King's English would have been used for official works in order to make them as accurate as possible.

Hope that sheds some light,
Nathan

Re: the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Thu Apr 09, 2015 9:26 pm
by Bobinwales
That is interesting, Nathan. I have to say that I was not aware of that.

Welcome, by the way.

Re: the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Thu Apr 09, 2015 11:58 pm
by Phil White
Hi Nathan,

Welcome.

Odd post, I have to say. I thought I had read pretty well all the old material by now.

Your comments only cover part of the ground.

Many languages have what is called a T-V distinction (from the French tu/vous). This means that different words reflecting different levels of formality are used when addressing other people. As such, they are a subset of what are known as "honorifics".

For most modern English speakers, it is a pretty alien concept, but for German and French speakers, for instance, it is entirely intuitive.

There are many ways in which the relevant pronouns (and often the associated verb forms) manifest themselves.

Some languages have several forms, such as feminine singular familiar, masculine singular familiar, feminine singular respectful, masculine singular respectful, feminine plural familiar, masculine plural familiar, feminine plural respectful, masculine plural respectful.

Others only have a distinction in the singular (such as French, where the singular respectful form coincides with the plural forms).

German has three distinct forms: (singular familiar and plural familiar and a single respectful form covering singular and plural), but no distinction between masculine and feminine.

Several of the languages of which I have slight knowledge appear to use the second-person plural form as a second-person singular respectful form. I am not sure how widespread this is beyond these few languages.

English, being the magpie language it is, has picked up and discarded bits and pieces from here and there.

Old English used þū in the singular and ȝe in the plural with no distinction between respectful and familiar forms. Some time after the conquest in 1066, the plural form ȝe (also ye) began to be used as a respectful singular form, while the þū (now mutated to þou[) was retained as the familiar singular form. By the 16th and 17th centuries, the distinction had become extremely marked, and a case distinction had also arisen (thou: nominative, thee:objective, ye: nominative, you:objective). Thus we find in Elizabethan English that the use of "thou" to address someone of noble rank as being a serious insult. Meanwhile, the objective form "you" began to supplant the nominative form "ye", which was rare even as early as the early 17th century.

This was largely the situation at the time the Authorized Version (or King James Version) of the Bible was completed in 1611. It is my understanding that the translators of the KJV were systematically conservative in their use of these pronouns, reserving "thou/thee" for singular uses and "ye/you" for plural, even though the changes that ultimately led to the ubiquitous use of "you" in modern English were well underway. As you point out in your reference to John 3:7, the original Greek is accurately reflected in the text:
μὴ θαυμάσῃς ὅτι εἶπόν σοι [singular] Δεῖ ὑμᾶς [plural] γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν.

Thus, although, as you say, "ye/you" is strictly a plural version and "thou/thee" was strictly a singular version in the KJV, this was not representative of the language at the time. "You" was already a respectful singular form and well on its way to becoming the only second-person form in standard English (however that may be defined).

While on the subject, it is interesting to note that the use of the KJV over many centuries has led to the perception that "Thou" and "Thee" are somehow more respectful terms by which to address the deity, which was certainly not the intention of the translators, who were more concerned with maintaining singular/plural distinctions made in the original Hebrew/Greek.

Also, it should be noted that several dialects of English retain singular/plural distinctions. Lancashire dialect, not far north of me, and my grandmam's native dialect, retains "thou, thee, thy and thine" in strictly singular (not familiar) meaning, while Scouse and Merseyside (the local dialect family here) have a "you" singular and a "yous" plural. You can hear the two dialects spoken within a few miles of each other just on the outskirts of Liverpool. Huyton, for instance is firmly in Scouse territory, and you will hear "you" and "yous", whereas Wigan, a mere 15 miles away is very much Lancashire with "thou" and "thee".

Re: the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Fri Apr 10, 2015 8:28 pm
by Phil White
It just crossed my mind. I wrote that German had 3 second-person forms. In fact, it has 4.

As I wrote above, it has
  • the second person singular familiar pronoun "du"
  • the second person plural familiar pronoun "ihr"
  • the second person singular and plural respectful pronoun "Sie" (always capitalized in writing)
In addition to this, it has what I shall call a second person formulaic respectful pronoun, namely "Ihr". This takes the same forms and verb forms as the second person plural familiar "ihr", but is always capitalized in writing.

Its use is extremely limited today, being used only to address royalty and holders of high church office, i.e. when one is addressing not the person, but the office they embody.

I find it fascinating that an extremely respectful singular form should be, to all intents and purposes, identical to a plural familiar form.

Perhaps there is some pattern there.

Re: the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Sat Aug 10, 2019 3:26 am
by Lolhard
You really are a bunch of wizards around here. Thanks for the info, Nathan and Phil. Very informative!

Re: the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Sun Dec 01, 2019 11:27 pm
by Dunkeld
Phil White wrote:
Fri Apr 10, 2015 8:28 pm
It just crossed my mind. I wrote that German had 3 second-person forms. In fact, it has 4.

As I wrote above, it has
  • the second person singular familiar pronoun "du"
  • the second person plural familiar pronoun "ihr"
  • the second person singular and plural respectful pronoun "Sie" (always capitalized in writing)
In addition to this, it has what I shall call a second person formulaic respectful pronoun, namely "Ihr". This takes the same forms and verb forms as the second person plural familiar "ihr", but is always capitalized in writing.

Its use is extremely limited today, being used only to address royalty and holders of high church office, i.e. when one is addressing not the person, but the office they embody.

I find it fascinating that an extremely respectful singular form should be, to all intents and purposes, identical to a plural familiar form.

Perhaps there is some pattern there.
I was interested to read about this.
And I can recall that my mother told me that she used to address her own mother not by "du" but by "ihr".

That would sound very strange in our time, but then it seemed to have been normal.

Re: the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Mon Dec 02, 2019 12:29 am
by Phil White
Nowadays, it is familiar to Germans primarily through period drama. My guess is that it was largely lost sometime at the end of the 19th century. I suspect that, if Germany still had a monarchy, it would survive in that context only. Even in the most formal situations, it has gone from the language nowadays.

Re: the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2019 9:40 am
by Dunkeld
Once there was also the possibility to address somebody in the third person singular.
That was the way "noble" people spoke to lesser beings ...

Frederick the great might address a farmer, when passing by his field:
"Was macht er da?" - "What is he doing here, then?"

And then the farmer might aswer:
"Ich säe Weizen, Ihro Majestät!" - "I am sowing wheat, Your Majesty!"

Re: the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Tue Dec 03, 2019 3:56 pm
by Phil White
Indeed. You still hear that occasionally when adults are talking to babies: "Ja, was macht er denn?" (And what are you doing?")

Re: the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Wed Dec 04, 2019 2:29 pm
by Dunkeld
And even a "we" can stand in for a "you".

In German a doctor may ask a patient: "Na, wie geht's uns denn heute?"
Meaning: "How are you feeling today?"
Literally: "How are we doing today?"

Re: the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Wed Dec 04, 2019 2:32 pm
by Phil White
Which is the same as many English-speaking doctors do.

Re: the royal 'we' / the royal 'you'?

Posted: Thu Dec 05, 2019 12:22 am
by Erik_Kowal
Phil White wrote:
Wed Dec 04, 2019 2:32 pm
Which is the same as many English-speaking doctors do.
There are few more loathsome and off-putting ways of starting a conversation than with that sort of infantilizing, condescending and demeaning question. Maybe some of the people who ask it think it comes across as warm and friendly, but I always bridle at it.

Unfortunately, I suspect most patients who also dislike it are too polite to protest (or too scared of offending someone with as much power over them as their doctor has), especially given that it always comes at the very outset of a consultation.