Hyper-inclusive Speaker-exclusive we

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Yesterday evening in a restaurant, our attentive server frequently asked us things like "Are we ready to order" and "How are we doing?". This waiter-we is pretty common, so I didn't notice it, though one of the other diners did. But when another server brought us a complimentary bit of sushi with the explanation "Here's some unagi for us", that was striking enough to prompt a bit of discussion. Among the three of us at the table, I thought that the we uses were normal but the "for us" was unexpected; another one of us saw all examples of waiter-we as weird and annoying; and the third, a native speaker of Russian, said that in Russian it's called (in translation) the "mom we".

The OED covers this usage under sense I.1.f. for we:

Used confidentially or humorously to mean the person or persons addressed, with whose interests the speaker thus identifies himself or herself (esp. by a doctor in friendly or cheering address to a patient); also used mockingly or reproachfully by a parent, intimate friend, etc.

The earliest OED citation is from 1702:

1702 J. Vanburgh, False Friend   Well, old Acquaintance, we are going to be Married then?

And there's Charles Dickens:

1836  C. Dickens, Sketches by Boz ‘Well, my dear ma'am, and how are we?’ inquired [Doctor] Wosky in a soothing tone.

The OED offers six other quotations, none of which are from restaurant servers or involve the objective case.

Wiktionary's entry for we includes sense 6.:

(personal, often considered patronising) A second- or third-person pronoun for a person in the speaker's care.
    How are we feeling this morning?

One additional quotation is offered:

2008 May 13, Tom Armstrong, Marvin (comic):
Are we ready to go to bed, sweetie?

(The "person in the speaker's care" seems almost exactly right — if extended to "person or persons in the speaker's care", it nicely covers the restaurant-server case. But I'm puzzled by the "third-person pronoun" part…)

Merriam-Webster's entry for we covers this under sense 3:

The adverbs "coaxingly", "encouragingly", and "in sarcasm", though valid, seem too specific. None of them really covers the restaurant-server case.

I'll spare you all the other dictionaries — the lexicographers clearly have this covered, modulo quibbling about applicability to waiters.

But we're left with at least three questions:

  1. What should we call this usage? In the post's title, I used "hyper-inclusive we". Can we do better? Has someone already done better? [See below: "speaker-exclusive we", now added to the title, is a much better term…]
  2. Is this just a fact about first-person-plural pronouns in English, or is it more general? Would a Chinese doctor or server ask "我们怎么样?" In French, could it be "Comment allons nous?" What about German, or Spanish, or Russian?
  3. How much cross-cultural variation is there in which speakers get to assume this role? My intuition is that the person behind the counter in an American diner or a dive bar is more likely to say "How ya doin?" than "How are we doing?"

I might well be wrong on that last point, at least about the second-person vs. first-plural choice — this would be a fun focus for the kind of "rapid and anonymous survey" that Bill Labov invented in 1962 to study "The Social Stratification of (r) in New York City Department Stores":

Instant Update — Checking Google Scholar uncovers a substantial and interesting literature, and some better names (like "speaker-exclusive we"). There's a survey in Francesca Santulli, "We Shall Fight: Speaker-Exclusive We as a Grammatical Metaphor", 2020:

Beyond the frequently investigated opposition between (addressee-) inclusive vs exclusive forms, this paper explores non-prototypical uses of the first person plural pronoun, focusing on the conflicts that arise when it is used in contexts that semantically exclude the speaker. Speaker-exclusive forms can occur in different situations, ranging from interpersonal exchanges to public discourse. The paper investigates their different semantic implications, highlighting their common traits as well as their crucial peculiarities. Both the review of the literature and the analysis of actual examples bring forth the different values and functions of various speaker-exclusive occurrences of the first person plural. […]

Another context in which hearer-oriented we occurs is the waiter-client interaction, as in:

(11) What are we having today?

De Cock (2016: 369) reports this possibility in Spanish, a language in which the first person plural can be used by a waiter with both habitual and new clients, without triggering impolite reading by the addressee. The situation seems different in Italian: Bazzanella (2002: 248) suggests that the use of the first person plural with new clients is usually perceived as impolite. The condescending-we seems justified in this context only if it occurs in a situation of acquaintance, where it contributes to creating a more personal relationship. The waiter-we does occur in English, though it may be perceived as unusual, or even incorrect. On the Merriam-Webster website, there is a section where users can indicate the reason why they have looked up a certain lemma in the dictionary. Among the comments concerning we, the following is worth mentioning:

(12) to find out if the restaurant servers are correct whey [sic!] say „what are WE having today‟. (Note 8)

This comment confirms the existence of this use in English, and also reveals that the addressee perceives something unusual, possibly incorrect (i.e. impolite) in the waiter's request.

See also Barbara De Cock, "Why we can be you: The use of 1st person plural forms with hearer reference in English and Spanish" (2011). And Pekka Posio, "Who are ‘we’ in spoken Peninsular Spanish and European Portuguese? Expression and reference of first person plural subject pronouns" (2012):

The present study examines the use of first person plural subject pronouns (PS nosotros and EP nós) in corpora of spoken language and connects it with the different referential properties of first person plural. It is shown that in PS the expression of the subject pronoun nosotros is rare – it occurs only in 4.5% of all clauses with first person plural subjects – and the reference of the pronoun is always hearer-exclusive in the data under survey. In EP, the expression of the first person plural subject pronoun nós is more frequent, occurring in 32.2% of the clauses with first person plural subjects. In EP, the use of the pronoun is not restricted to the hearer-exclusive reading but is also found in contexts where the reference is construed as hearer-inclusive or impersonal.

Posio's paper also discusses the Portuguese use of a gente "people" with first-person plural reference, reminding us that in French we'd need to look at on as well as nous.



  1. Anubis Bard said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 6:28 am

    To your point about the dive barkeep, I share your intuition. "How we doing?" signals a kind of mutualistic or caring relationship that would seem out of place. I doubt I would notice it though, usually. But when speaker-exclusive we is used with other layerings of smarm, I know I can bristle at it.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 6:52 am

    Even before I reached this line just before the page break — "in Russian it's called (in translation) the 'mom we'" — I was already starting to think of a mother talking to her child or a nurse or caregiver talking to her patient or an owner talking to their pet.

    As for inclusive "we" in Mandarin, we (!) have zánmen, zám 咱們.

    Here are some usage notes:

    咱們/咱们 (zánmen) is mostly used in Northern China. Unlike 我們/我们 (wǒmen) that can either include or exclude the person spoken to, 咱們/咱们 (zánmen) always includes the person spoken to. Furthermore, 咱們/咱们 (zánmen) tends to convey a sense of intimacy between the interlocutors.

    (from Wiktionary)

    Note especially the last item, but it's not exactly the speaker-exclusive we being discussed in this post.

    I will ask around to see whether zánmen, zám 咱們 or some other first person plural locution is ever used speaker-exclusively.

  3. Phillip Minden said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 7:16 am

    "Empathic we" is how I sometimes call it.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 7:49 am

    I agree that in the restaurant anecdote the speaker-exclusive "for us" seems really weird, but I can at least conjure up in my mind examples using the core "mom we" in oblique case that feel cromulent. E.g., "now darling we don't want to eat our Halloween candy all at once because that would be bad for us, wouldn't it?" Perhaps the takeaway is just that the parent-child relationship is not actually emotionally coextensive with the server-customer relationship even if there's some high-level analogy involving "care," so a server speaking as if there's no difference in emotional scope may end sounding weird or offputting.

  5. Neil Serven said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 8:48 am

    I hear this a lot with parents of young children both in the second person and third person. "Are we [=you] hungry?"; "We were [=he/she was] having a tantrum this morning." Which seems to be what's demonstrated in the Marvin quote.

  6. davep said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 8:59 am

    “You” in the restaurant context might come across as trying to rush the patrons. “We”’might come across as less demanding since the waiter is “including” themselves.

  7. davep said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 9:03 am

    If “we” is the norm, it’s somewhat consistent to use “us”. But there are fewer occasions to do so. So, it seems odder that the “we”. (“We” is still going to seem odd in some degree to most people.)

  8. NSBK said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 10:48 am

    I've encountered the term "pedagogic we", referring to usages in academics. Something like:

    – "If we multiply x and y, we will get their product."
    – "Let us assume that n is a whole number"
    – "Taking the square root of a negative number requires us to discuss complex numbers"
    – "Let us recall the earlier discussion…"

    Where yes, arguably the "we" here could be considered the teacher and student, or the author and reader. But I think it could be viewed also just as a sort of filler, like generic "you" or "one". What's the real difference between:

    1. If we multiply x and y, we will get their product"
    2. If you multiply x and y, you will get their product"
    3. If one multiplies x and y, one will get their product"
    4. If x and y are multiplied, their product will be obtained"


    Also related may be the usage of "discuss", referring to a lecture ("last week we discussed this topic") or text ("in the previous chapter we discussed this topic"), where a singular teacher/author was the only contributing voice.

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 10:50 am

    Word frequency lists from corpus data generally indicate that "we" is more frequent than "us" in general, although approximations of how much more frequent seem to vary (is the we:us ratio more like 3:1 or 5:1?). Which I guess leads to the questions of:

    1. Whether we would expect the ratio to be more skewed in server-customer interactions using the speaker-exclusive version (because of something about the nature of that interaction and its tendency to be somewhat scripted and rely on stock expressions).

    2. Whether the ratio needs to be more skewed for the "us" version to seem subjectively weirder than the "we" version or whether it would give that impression even if the we:us ratio was consistent with the average across a wide range of other conversational contexts.

    I have a mild intuition as to #1 that the we:us ratio would be more heavily skewed toward "we" in this particular context, but I have no actual data and perhaps someone who did have actual data would demonstrate my intuition to be inaccurate. I'm not sure if davep's "fewer occasions to do so" was intended to take any side on that question.

  10. Cervantes said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 10:57 am

    There's also a doctor we.

    Doc: And how are we feeling today?
    Patient: I'm okay but you're looking a little pekid.

  11. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 11:09 am

    I think I may have witnessed the pediatrician version of "doctor we" employing an "us," with the pediatrician catechizing patients on the cusp of adolescence with didactic rhetorical questions like "Now, is smoking cigarettes good for us or bad for us?" in an attempt to elicit the "correct" answer (whether sincere or feigned) from the young patient.

  12. Jeffrey Kallberg said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 11:34 am

    I had a precisely the same experience with the "us" usage in a suburban Philadelphia restaurant a few weeks ("Are there two of us?", the hostess asked, looking directly at my wife, which had me imagining I'd be sitting at the bar while the two of them enjoyed their dinner at the table).

    So question 1: assuming Mark's dinner also was in Philadelphia, is this some kind of regional practice?

    And question 2: I'd never encountered this before. Is the waiterly "us" a new phenomenon?

  13. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 12:26 pm

    In Polish, the first person plural (of the verb; usually without a pronoun since it's a pro-drop language) is also sometimes used in instructions. "First we do this, then we do that…" Rubs me the wrong way, presumably due to the motherese/guardianese connotation.

  14. David Marjanović said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 12:44 pm

    In French, could it be "Comment allons nous?"

    I think so. (I'd spell it with a hyphen, but many native speakers don't.)

    What about German, or Spanish, or Russian?

    German definitely – I haven't been to German-speaking restaurants often enough in my life to do statistics with, but the doctor's "how are we today" (wie geht's uns denn heute) is stereotypical. Russian – judging from the end of your first paragraph…

  15. Chester Draws said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 1:42 pm

    Where I'm from it is the "teacher we".

  16. Tvmon said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 1:47 pm

    Speaker-exclusive we" is an intriguing linguistic phenomenon, with variations across languages. It's fascinating how it's used, even in restaurant settings.

  17. goku said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 1:49 pm

    The use of "we" by service personnel can be seen as both inclusive and slightly unusual. Cultural context seems to play a role in how it's perceived.

  18. toka said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 1:50 pm

    Hyper-inclusive we" or "speaker-exclusive we" is a linguistic quirk that highlights the nuances of language and social interaction. It's interesting to see how different cultures handle it.

  19. mike said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 2:27 pm

    As a variant on "doctor we" per Cervantes, we also use the term "nurse-person plural"

  20. Haamu said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 2:38 pm

    Re Wiktionary's comment that there's a third-person version of this:

    I read this post several hours ago, before my first cup of coffee kicked in. I completely missed Wiktionary's intended meaning: that we can be used in the third person — what Neil Serven illustrates above nicely with "We were having a tantrum this morning."

    Instead, I began searching my brain-fog for examples of third-person pronouns being used in the second person, a parallel to the first-for-second substitutions that prompted MYL's post. When nothing occurred to me, I found myself sharing his puzzlement, although unknowingly for the wrong reason.

    Just at that moment, I heard my dogs scratching at the back door to be let in. As is their custom, two of them came in promptly, while one, Lucy, was nowhere to be seen. She loves to hang out in the woods behind the house, and would stay there all day if allowed.

    I was about to say "Where's Lucy?" — my usual way of calling her in — when, to my surprise, she popped around the corner and up the steps. I heard myself saying instead "There she is!" in the bright, enthusiastic intonation I use to praise her. I realized I was definitely addressing her (rather than the other dogs, or the ether, or my still-sleeping-upstairs wife), but using the third person to do so, something that for me is a common practice. ("Where's Lucy?" is, after all, third person.)

    It occurs to me that third-for-second is probably not uncommon when addressing dogs. Among other things, there's the standard "Who's a good dog? Albie is! Yes he is!" directed at the dog himself. As a new grandparent, I'm also reminded that something similar can frequently occur when addressing babies.

    If we can explain first-for-second (or "speaker-exclusive we") in terms of relationship asymmetry (e.g., service/caregiving), then I wonder if third-for-second might be explained in terms of further accentuation of that asymmetry, as when we assume the intended addressee doesn't really understand what we are saying to them.

  21. Chau said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 3:22 pm

    The speaker-exclusive “we” is also found in Taiwanese/Hokkien. Let’s say a scholar is visiting Taipei from Philadelphia, and would like to ask a local how to go to the main train station of Taipei. They probably may ask a question like the following.

    Chhéng-kàu sian-sinn, lán àn-chia beh khì Tâi-pak Chhia-thâu ài án-choánn kiânn? 請教先生, 咱按遮欲去台北車頭要安怎行? ‘Please (may I) ask Sir, how do we go from here to Taipei Main Train Station?’ [The thâu 頭 ‘head’ of Chhia-thâu 車頭 ‘Main Train Station’ is equivalent to German “Haupt” of “Hauptbahnhof”.]

    Here the speaker does not know how to get there, and they assume the person being asked knows it. So, in this example, we see in Taiwanese/Hokkien there is the usage of speaker-exclusive we. Indeed, this usage is considered a polite form of asking questions and is often encountered.

    Taiwanese/Hokkien lán is normally an inclusive we. For example, “Lán lâi khì tioh hî 咱來去釣魚” means “Let’s go fishing”. In the first example given above, the lán is speaker-exclusive. The Sinoglyph 咱 is borrowed to write lán and bears no phonetic relationship to Mandarin 咱 zán (Taiwan Mandarin zá). As Professor Mair had commented, “As for inclusive "we" in Mandarin, we (!) have zánmen, zám 咱們.”

    Taiwanese/Hokkien has both inclusive we (lán 咱) and exclusive we (goán 阮). In my opinion, the inclusive we lán 咱 is formed by a contracture of lí 你 ‘you’ and goán 阮 ‘exclusive we’: l(í) + (go)án = lán.

  22. Daniel Barkalow said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 4:50 pm

    WRT the 3rd-person usage: I believe I've had a vet ask me "are we here for our shots today?" Neither the vet nor I would be getting shots, and my dog was unlikely to answer the question, but the pronoun still referred to the individual being cared for.

  23. Nathan said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 5:50 pm

    The comments from "Tvmon", "goku", and "toka" are all spam, something rarely seen on this site.

  24. Jonathan Smith said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 7:28 pm

    "lán àn-chia beh khì Tâi-pak Chhia-thâu ài án-choánn kiânn?"
    but the speaker is the one who wants to go to the train station ('How do I+you i.e. I get to…?'). So this is not "speaker-exclusive" but more like crossed-out "hyper-inclusive" of the post title.

    And lán etc. are specifically addressee-inclusive. if it is possible to say e.g. "lán khì tó-uī?" in Tw. and mean "where are *you (guys)* going? [I'm not going]" then we have a true parallel to the above… this seems a dubious application of addresee-inclusive 'we' in Sinitic…

    What Chinese languages do a lot is use third-person forms for second person reference… so restaurant staff can call MYL and company "三位" 'the three (esteemed personages)', etc., instead of some 'you' word. this could be a broadly east asia thing.

  25. Brett said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 7:56 pm

    @NSBK: That usage was previously discussed here.

    An older version of the style guide for authors submitting articles to journals published by the American Institute of Physics said explicitly that this kind of we was recommended under certain circumstances:

    A single author should also use "we" in the common construction that politely includes the reader: 'We have already seen…."

    However, it also said not to use we in single-author articles in order to somehow give an impression of modesty. Other academic journals have taken different stances, either for or against this use of we.

  26. JPL said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 8:05 pm

    The use of 'we' in the "restaurant server" case expresses essentially the same sense as it does in one of its core uses, namely "speaker including the addressees". The intent of the speaker is to express inclusion of herself in the group of addressees in order to avoid expressing a possibly off-putting "otherness", sort of as davep suggests above. If you call this usage "speaker-exclusive", it would suggest that the speaker is excluding themselves from the group of addressees, but the opposite is happening. It's not that the speaker ought not to be expressing herself this way because really she's not a member of the addressee group, which is possibly an objective fact about the speech situation (as opposed to something expressed by the linguistic form). I suppose you might say that she's trying to ingratiate herself. I would describe this use as a case of "2nd person plural avoidance", on the level of pragmatics and sociolinguistic analysis. (VHM's example of Northern Chinese "zanmen" might be open to a similar analysis.)

  27. Stephen J said,

    October 4, 2023 @ 9:16 pm

    In Gavin Becker's book about personal safety "The Gift of Fear", inappropriate use of "we" is described as part of a strategy called "forced teaming", where a person with bad intent tries to induce co-operation from a victim by behaving as though they have a shared bond, even though they are strangers.

  28. AntC said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 2:18 am

    The comments from "Tvmon", "goku", and "toka" are all spam, …

    Thanks @Nathan, so they are. Gosh these AI are getting clever!

  29. Yuval said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 2:57 am

    Definitely A Thing™ in Hebrew. I fondly recall a talk show host in the '90s introducing the band that was going to play a song for the final segment, and as they sit in the guest sofa asking them ma nishma? מה נשמע?, which can literally mean "what will we hear?" and so the vocalist started talking about the song they'd perform, but the host immediately cut his speech and said "no no no, I just meant 'what's up?'" (cf. Yiddish װאָס הערט זיך, "what is heard?").

  30. Yuval said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 3:12 am

    Upon further reflection, this usage I just mentioned might be the elusive "third-person" case myl was sceptic about: I didn't construe the host (who'd been to rehearsal, and knew the band, etc.) as including himself in the (inferred) "what will we hear", and naturally not the band either. So this would only be referring to the show's audience.

  31. Lasius said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 4:39 am

    What about German, or Spanish, or Russian?

    As David Marjanović said it is common in German in roughly the same situations as in English, also known as the Pluralis benevolentiae.

    Additionally it is used in more situations in certain topolects such as the Berlin metrolect.

  32. Raul said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 5:46 am

    For a lonely point of data, I can say that speaker-exclusive "we" exists in Estonian, and I think I have heard most, if not all the abovementioned examples (waiter, doctor, soldier, spy). (Not a great surprise due to the geographical location between German and Russian.) It's rare and seems a bit old-fashioned for me.

  33. Athanasios Protopapas said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 7:04 am

    Exists in Greek too. For things like "Are we ready to order" (είμαστε έτοιμοι να παραγγείλουμε;) and "How are we doing?" (πώς τα πάμε;) — definitely not for "Here's some unagi for us" (only a member of the eating company can say μας έφερα ουνάγκι if they went to the kitchen to fetch it themselves). I'd say not pervasive but certainly normal for parents, doctors, and waiters.

  34. unekdoud said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 8:39 am

    If I say to a friend "we need to not concede a goal" while watching a football match, is it an example of the mom we?

    Also since it hasn't been mentioned here, SMBC has a comic for the more common type of we-confusion:

  35. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 9:23 am

    @unekdoud: that seems like what you might call (there may be a better term?) the "patriotic we," akin to when someone says "we" in reference to an actual or political or military action of their nation's government in which they are not personally involved and are unlikely to be consulted by any of the relevant decisionmakers. (Does that usage exist in nations that do not purport to be representative democracies? I would suspect so but don't know for sure.) You can sometimes see that "we" in reference to historical events that occurred before the speaker was born.

    The actual members of the actual sports team actually playing out on the field (or "pitch" or whatever you may call it) are often conceptualized by fans as designated representatives of a broader community of which the speaker, if a fan, is a member. Non-fans may think that silly but encouraging that sense among the fanbase is generally good for the team's revenues.

  36. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 10:20 am

    Another controversial and contested usage in current AmEng is the practice of some fathers-to-be of saying "we're pregnant," thus metaphorically treating the state-of-being-pregnant as an attribute of the couple rather than just of the mother-to-be. Some find this extremely irksome (since the father-to-be is of course not directly experiencing the physical burdens and inconveniences of pregnancy but is nonetheless trying to "take credit"); others accept it as a way for the father-to-be to signal that he is trying to be as involved and supportive as possible rather than being a passive bystander simply awaiting the actual birth. This seems related to the "mom we" but also a bit different, because the speaker depicting himself as a participant in the predicate is not quite the same sort of polite fiction but (IMHO) a different sort of polite fiction with a someone different agenda.

    (I've personally been in the supportive/involved father-to-be role in a fair number of pregnancies and it's certainly not something I would ever say or counsel anyone to say, but I'm trying to be neutral here and try to understand in a descriptive-linguistics way why the usage might seem plausible to others.)

  37. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 10:24 am

    Sorry, hit post too soon – not just before fixing at least one Damn-You-Autocorrect problem, but before making the larger point that the "mom we" and "doctor we" and "waiter we" are all inclusive, i.e. lumping together speaker and addressee, while the "we're pregnant" use is exclusive, since the addressee is a third party (who could I suppose by coincidence be pregnant, but presumptively not) outside the "pregnant couple" that is expecting the baby.

  38. Philip Anderson said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 1:01 pm

    Re “third-person pronouns being used in the second person”
    Some languages do use the third person for the polite (vous) forms of the second person, eg. Italian and Portuguese, where others use the second-person plural. This used to confuse Google Translate.

  39. Philip Anderson said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 1:05 pm

    It’s not unknown in English: e.g. “how would Sir like his steak?” would be more formal than “how would we like our steak?” in a restaurant.

  40. Jerry Packard said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 1:47 pm

    Then there’s the ‘royal we’, taken as a command from speaker to addressee, as in ‘we need to clean the kitchen’, when the speaker means that it is the addressee that needs to clean the kitchen.

  41. Chau said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 2:21 pm

    @Jonathan Smith
    ‘"lán àn-chia beh khì Tâi-pak Chhia-thâu ài án-choánn kiânn?"
    but the speaker is the one who wants to go to the train station.’

    Perhaps that is not a very good example. Here’s another scenario.

    I go to Taichung for a business trip, and I have an old friend who lives there but we haven’t seen each other for quite some time. So, after the meeting is over, I ring him up. I explain to him that the meeting has gone exceedingly smoothly, and has finished before noon. I have a train ticket by High-Speed Rail to go home at 5 pm. I have got some time to while away. Since I haven’t seen you for some time, may I stop by for a chat? (This explanation is typical Taiwanese, as a courtesy it is necessary to explain your motivation in such a way as not let my friend feel the burden that I have taken troubles to go visit him specifically.) Expressing the idea that “I am thinking to drop by your place to see you”, I would say in Taiwanese:

    “Góa siūnn beh lâi lán chia thàm lāu-pêng-iú. 我想欲來咱遮探老朋友” ‘I am thinking to drop by our here (i.e., this place) to visit [my] old friend.’

    Since the place I will be visiting is his house, not mine, it is obvious that the “our” is speaker-exclusive.

  42. Victor Mair said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 4:13 pm

    I asked around about the use of hyper-inclusive / speaker-exclusive we in Chinese, and none of my respondent said clearly that it was a common thing in the topolects with which they were familiar. But I learned a lot about first person pronouns in China. I was surprised to find that wǒ(men) 我(們) was nowhere close to being universal for the first person singular and plural. Quite the contrary, although not approved for MSM, the use of ǎn 俺 is widespread in Henan and elsewhere in the north.

    If you want to see how complicated the derivation and usage of ǎn 俺 is, check out this Wiktionary article: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E4%BF%BA

    In that article, we learn that 俺 was already being used as a second (!) person pronoun as early as in the Kojiki of 712 AD, but after that it seems to have gradually changed into a first person pronoun with a succession of different pronunciations and social nuances (mostly used by men).

    And then there is Shanghainese 7aq-la 阿拉, which is also in Ningbo and other Wu topolects.

    And so forth and so on.

  43. Jonathan Smith said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 5:43 pm

    “Góa siūnn beh lâi lán chia thàm lāu-pêng-iú. 我想欲來咱遮探老朋友”
    Surely here lán chia means 'our place; you+me's home(town)'? If indeed it means nǐ nàr 你那儿 i.e. 'your place/home (NOT mine)', then I agree it is an example of the phenomenon under discussion.

  44. Josh R said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 7:12 pm

    Japanese is more circumspect in its use of pronouns, and waiter-speech highly codified/ritualized, so "waiter-we" is not really a thing in Japan. Nor is there specifically a "mom-we". But there is a similar use of the volitional form.

    The volitional form is generally used for invitation or suggestion that includes the speaker and the addressee. Ex. 行く iku – "to go", volitional form: 行こう ikou – "Let's go." It can also be used to refer only to the speaker, but inviting the addressee's opinion: 行こうか ikou ka can mean both "Shall we go?" and "Should I go?" or "Why don't I go?"

    The interesting use related to the topic at hand is when it's used to refer to an action unequivocally taken only by the addressee, and not by the speaker. In this usage, it functions as an imperative. A very soft imperative, but an imperative nonetheless. And it's most typical use is by parents (stereotypically mothers, but not exclusively) and teachers with children. For example, a fully-dressed mother telling her pajama-clad child, 早く着替えよう, Hayaku kigaeyou, Literally she is saying, "Let us get dressed quickly." Functionally, she's saying, "Hurry up and get dressed."

    Outside of parent/child, teacher/child contexts, it's seen in instruction manuals and directions that are trying to appear friendly. And like the examples of "doctor we", it's often used by nurses with patients. Working at a company that operates maternity clinics, I've often seen midwives tell expecting mothers such things as, 葉酸サプリを摂りましょう, Yousan sapuri wo torimashou "Let's take folic acid supplements."

  45. Martha said,

    October 5, 2023 @ 7:57 pm

    Having extensive customer service experience (retail, not food service), my intuition is that "What are we having" from a server is actually speaker INclusive, but that the weirdness comes from the verb.

    In a retail setting (think one where the employee is actively helping the customer shop, rather than just ringing them up) you might hear a cashier say something like, "Are we getting the blue sweater or the black sweater?" No, the cashier isn't the one GETTING the sweater, but they are involved in the process. I've also heard it with "do," as in "Are we doing the blue sweater?" which maybe illustrates this better, because the employee is certainly doing something.

    My feeling is that in "What are we having," "have" doesn't mean "order" or "eat" but is instead describing the whole process of ordering, putting in the order, bringing the food, and then eating, that the server is participating in with the customer.

    Similarly, "Are we getting the blue sweater" means "Do you want this sweater and should I ring you up for it?" whereas "Are you getting the blue sweater" sounds to my ear like something Employee A might say if they had been assisting the customer and later saw them at the register with Employee B and were curious about which sweater they ended up choosing.

    That said, I also agree with what davep said in that "we" might also seem less demanding. I think it can be either, depending on the situation, or even both.

  46. Anthea Fleming said,

    October 6, 2023 @ 12:02 am

    Two Papua-New Guinea pidgin forms may be of interest, both transating 'we'.
    'Yumi' = speaker plus addressee, maybe others.
    'Uspela' = speaker and others, not including addressee.
    A useful distinction.

  47. Andreas Johansosn said,

    October 6, 2023 @ 1:57 am

    @J. W. Brewster

    I once had a guided tour at an old castle where the tour guide made it sound like he'd been personally involved in repelling besiegers centuries ago.

    I never claimed to be pregnant when my wife was, but I did once or twice say that "we're expecting a child", which some people took exception to – to them it was clearly equivalent to me claiming to be pregnant.

  48. Philip Taylor said,

    October 6, 2023 @ 6:59 am

    «»I did once or twice say that "we're expecting a child", which some people took exception to – to them it was clearly equivalent to me claiming to be pregnant » — oddly enough, my reaction in a similar situation is the opposite — when I hear someone speak of "my son" or "my daughter", I always wonder why not "our son" (or "our daughter").

  49. Thomas said,

    October 6, 2023 @ 10:27 am

    I most commonly refer to this as the "nurse we". I actually find it offensive how this way of talking to the elderly or sick is the exact same as how one would talk to small children. Whenever my mother is in the hospital, she afterwards complains about the condescendingness of the nurses and doctors that most frequently use these constructions, even if they don't mean it in a bad way. If a waiter happens to do this, I find this very irritating and impolite.

  50. peter siegelman said,

    October 6, 2023 @ 3:58 pm

    There's a story that Queen Elizabeth once had to correct herself when she was talking about Prince Philip and herself, explaining that "by 'we,' I mean both of us." See

  51. Aotearoa said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 4:46 pm

    In Te Reo Maori (and in other Polynesian languages) first person pronouns are singular, dual and plural. The dual and plural are further divided into listener exclusive and listener inclusive. It is used all the time and is not context dependent. There is one usage of the listener inclusive instead of the second person plural. So an informal greeting to a group could be “Tena koutou” (second person plural} – “Hello everybody”. Many though, myself included, say “Tena taatou” (first person plural) – “Hello everybody (myself included). I first heard this about 40 years ago. Then, it was a regional/tribal usage in the East Cape area of New Zealand’s North Island. It has now become widespread but is not used by the majority of speakers. Those who don’t use it will sometimes comment ‘Why are you greeting yourself?” when they hear others using it. It’s not used in restaurants or by doctors (only a tiny percentage of doctors speak Te Reo Maori), teachers and parents in the mom we sense.

  52. Adrian Bailey said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 2:05 pm

    Jerry Packard: "Then there’s the ‘royal we’, taken as a command from speaker to addressee, as in ‘we need to clean the kitchen’, when the speaker means that it is the addressee that needs to clean the kitchen."

    That's not Royal We, that's actually a variant of the Mom We the thread has been about.

    Royal We is used in place of "I". For example, if I say "we are not amused" when I mean that I am not amused. It's very common (increasingly so?) among vloggers.

  53. Adrian Bailey said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 2:08 pm

    @Cervantes I don't think I've heard "pekid" (or peaked) before – where do people say it? Here in the English Midlands we use (I think I'm right in saying) "peaky".

  54. Jerry Packard said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 4:48 pm

    Adrian, thanks for the clarification.

  55. Viseguy said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 5:02 pm

    I'm curious about the Russian original for the "mom we". Google Translate et al. don't seem to recognize it. I'm guessing it's something like мамина мы, but would love to know for real.

    PS: ChatGPT got it the wrong way around:

    Me: I believe there is a Russian phrase that translates as the "mom we", as in "We must clean our room now!". Can you tell me what the original phrase in Russian is?

    Chat: The Russian phrase you're referring to is likely "Мама, мы уберёмся!" (Mama, my uberyomsya!), which translates to "Mom, we will tidy up/clean up!" in English. This phrase is commonly used by children to inform their mother that they intend to clean their room or do some chores.

  56. RfP said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 11:45 pm

    @Adrian: I’m pretty familiar with “pekid,” assuming that’s a bisyllabic pronunciation of “peaked,” but I don’t think it’s very common in Standard American English these days.

    My vague recollection is that it is or was primarily rural and probably started going out of fashion sometime in the mid- to late twentieth century.

    And I’m pretty sure I mostly recognize it from books and movies/TV. Like Westerns or similar types of story.

    But it sounds like something my (Texas-born-and-raised) grandmother might have said.

  57. Kaleberg said,

    October 10, 2023 @ 10:44 pm

    What have we here?

    That kind of we was common in software comments. I've seen pages of code full of:

    – Now we check the error code and …
    – We use the libduck library to make sure all our ducks are in a row
    – Verify our status and put ourselves on the queue
    – If our return code is negative, we have to modify our settings

    I'm not sure this style is current. I haven't coded professionally in ages, and I can imagine modern code review practice discouraging it. It is not the royal, religious or editorial we, but it does invite the user to follow the programmer through the code's logic.

  58. DKlimenok said,

    October 11, 2023 @ 12:03 am

    @Victor Mair, @Viseguy
    As a native speaker of Russian I'm sure that the "mom we" of the original post was either invented on the spot or belongs to a particular idiolect of the diner (or their immediate family). Not that I haven't ever heard anything like this (I haven't), I cannot imagine how this locution could sound in Russian. Certainly it's not мамина мы, it must be neuter: (мамино, мамкино, мамочкино мы, but all sound awkward to me. Probably because мы is not expected to be used in this meta-sense. I wanted to look it up in corpora but couldn't think up a query. So, even if "mom we" appears to be felicitous English handle for the phenomenon under discussion, I doubt that Russian prototype exist.

  59. rika said,

    October 24, 2023 @ 11:25 am

    The restaurant server's usage of "we" is known as "speaker-exclusive we" and can vary in acceptability across languages and cultures

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