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Tim Marchman on Nosism and Presumptuousness

Newspaper

If you were looking for a place to assign blame for nosism — the use of the first-person plural to refer to oneself — you might start with God (“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” etc.) or with papal practice, or with Henry II, who is credited with having introduced the practice of English monarchs referring to themselves in the majestic plural in the 12th century; in the end, none of this is convincing. Without getting into the intricacies of theology and Hebrew grammar, for instance, it’s quite possible that God is a trinitarian, or using an intensifier to boast about His greatness in a way that seems more understandable coming from the creator of space and time than from a middle-tier magazine columnist, while popes and monarchs are not using the plural to refer to themselves alone but to themselves and God and/or the polities for which they speak, which may be arrogant, but displays a different sort of presumptuousness than that of a writer claiming to have divined the thoughts of everyone reading them. Even then, all of this is archaic: God hasn’t said anything in a long time, popes have generally passed over the “we” business since John Paul II, and even British monarchs aren’t all that likely to abuse the royal we.


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