I don’t like the patronizing “we”

People around me at work say phrases like:

  • “Do we know how long this will take?”
  • “Do we have someone that can figure that out?”

Wikipedia calls this the patronizing we and the description is dead on:

The patronizing we is sometimes used in addressing instead of “you”. A doctor may ask a patient: And how are we feeling today? This usage is emotionally non-neutral and usually bears a condescending, ironic, praising, or some other flavor, depending on an intonation: “Aren’t we looking cute?”.

I don’t like it. People tend to use it to assign an activity implicitly, like when somebody says “We’ll take care of it” and they really want me to do something, but they also want to somehow associate themselves with my labor.

And when some of the lazy marketing people say “Do we know how many of X there are?” what they really mean is “I’m so mushy-headed I can’t even bother thinking who I should ask to find this out”.

Finally, the “We need to get this done!” and “We need to make this a priority!” imperatives are the absolute worst. The speaker is admonishing subordinates and at the same time taking credit for anything that may happen.

Perhaps later I will construct a lookup table to disambiguate these phrases.

12 thoughts on “I don’t like the patronizing “we”

  1. I definitely hear it a lot… I hope I’m not guilty of it. I’ll certainly try to avoid it–generally when I “we”, it means that there’s a lot of horrible shit to do, and that I’ll be just as deep into it as anyone else. (At least I *think* that’s how I use it.)

  2. Yeah, I’m not arguing that all uses of “we” should be abolished. There are valid times where people say “we” because that is exactly what they mean.


    Well, there’s no point in repeating the sentiment of the original post.

  3. You know you make a valid point. I find my self saying and wishing i could be a subordinate and tell my boss ” we wont be the ones getting it done i'll finish it D!%k.”

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  5. “WE totally agree with you on this”!
    (disclaimer: I talked to everybody on the Internet before I made the proceding statement, so when I say “we” I don't mean “oui”)

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