Monday, January 05, 2009

The royal they?

How confusing is this language thing? Or rather, how confusing is the terminology? We is not a 3rd person pronoun.

Lynn Sweet was on C-SPAN talking about Rod Blogejevich's ballsy attempt to appoint Roland Burris. Sweet has also written on the topic, and the headlines on two of her nearly identical pieces both use a line that was mentioned on the short C-SPAN segment.

As Burris sees it: 'We are the senator'

Burris proclaims, "We are the senator." Wants to avoid media circus over Obama seat.

Sweet explained the title(s) by pointing out that Burris likes to use the 3rd person to refer to himself. That title is supposed to give a nudge to that quality. So does she care that "we" is 1st person?

It is true that Burris has referred to himself in the 3rd person. More specifically he refers to himself by name (perhaps 3rd person POV but it's not really the same as a 3rd person pronoun). Andrew Herrmann writes (also for the Sun Times):

Speaking of himself in the 2002 interview, Burris said, 'Roland Burris, who started way down here, in the segregation of a southern Illinois community, was able to set goals, plan and strategize and make it.'

Here's Sweet in another report mentioning the 3rd person habit:

This looks like conflation based on a sense that Burris doesn't stick with typical 1st person references. The third person and the royal we must somehow feel the same to Sweet. Perhaps there is a similar sense in both that the self exists in a way that isn't captured by the singular I or me. And both are commonly heard as arrogant or presumptuous. There might be something to that.


  1. Did you ever wonder why the third person is called the third person? I mean, I know the easy reason, but, like... metapsychoarchetypally?

  2. Roland Burris, meet Bob Dole.

    Or Bob Kelso, perhaps.


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