Bill Gnade recalls the rhetorical stylings
of Michelle Obama on the campaign trail:
[B]efore we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls - our souls are broken in this nation.Bill has some questions for which I would wager he'll not receive answers. For our purposes, the main thing to note is that when Michelle referred to "our" souls being broken, she almost certainly didn't mean her soul was broken.
It put me in mind of an old Underground Grammarian essay, "The Witching Our", by the late Richard Mitchell. You can find it about 40% down this page. Mitchell was bemused by a mass-mailing that claimed "it is up to you and me to protect our young and needy." He replied:
Your sentiment, sir, is surely well-intended, and does you, I suppose, some credit, but I fear that you have made some mistake. Your young and mine are unlikely to be the same young. I will admit, nay, affirm, that in the case of your absence and my presence, I would indeed think myself bound to undertake, should it be necessary, the protection of your young, or any other young, for that too seems a duty rightly laid on us all by Nature and Custom, but I confess that I find your stern admonition at the very least premature, and perhaps even a bit presumptuous. Do you mean to imply that should the occasion arise when your young need protection and when I alone am nearby, that, except for your admonition, I would probably not protect them?
Mitchell was having a bit of fun here. But the point I took away is that whenever people use first-person plural forms in an obviously false way, they are often engaging in a particularly nasty bit of obfuscation. Often more than a bit of self-delusion is going on too. Some current examples:
- "We must rise as a nation with unity of purpose to
protect our jobs, protect our homes, and provide health
care for our
"Despite resources that
are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our
grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and
other nations outpace us. […] The relative decline of American
education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our
and unacceptable for our children."
answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They
exist in our
laboratories and universities; in our fields and our
factories; in the
imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working
people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest
force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in
ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull
together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take
responsibility for our future once more."
About the only vaguely justifiable use of "our" above is "our democracy."
Other than that: when Joe Politician talks about what "we" need to do about various things of "ours", he never means it in the same sense that (say) your spouse would. For example, "unacceptable for our children" in the second quote above doesn't really include the speaker's own children; Malia's and Sasha's situation at Sidwell Friends is quite acceptable.
But it's an attempt to imply the same things your spouse would; it's an attempt to draw you into a warm 'n' fuzzy communitarianism, a blurring of responsibility, and (almost always, as in Mitchell's example), a subtle way of letting you know that you're expected to shell out some more cash to save/fix/preserve/bail out/protect/defend what's "ours".
- "We must rise as a nation with unity of purpose to protect our jobs, protect our homes, and provide health care for our families."
Betsy Newmark has an excellent
link-filled summary of the faux hatefest directed at AIG for
its taxpayer-fueled bonuses.
The politicians chose a federal bailout over a bankruptcy procedure. In a bankruptcy, there would have been provisions to renegotiate contracts that could have been used to avoid this moment. But we didn't do that. We went the bailout route. And now we're reaping the reward. And the politicians are the ones who voted for all this. The outrage that we're seeing is the result of those politicians realizing that they were at fault and they're desperately trying to cast the blame elsewhere.Indeed. Other than a few incorrect uses of "we". As Instapundit says:
But it's a point worth making again -- they rushed this stinker through, and now it's biting them on the ass. Good.
Continuing with our linguistic theme: Mark Liberman at Language
Log, reacting to the WaPo op-ed of AIG CEO Edward Liddy,
traces the history of the phrase "mistakes were made."
As a bonus, there's a pre-Simpsons Matt Groening cartoon.
And in other news:
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen was just a few paragraphs into an address in Washington when he realised it all sounded a bit too familiar.To quote Frank J (again): "But know who's dumb? Palin!"
It was. He was repeating the speech President Barack Obama had just read from the same teleprompter.
Mr Cowen stopped, turned to the president and said: "That's your speech."
A laughing Mr Obama returned to the podium to take over but it seems the script had finally been switched and the US president ended up thanking himself for inviting everyone to the party.
[Update: Turns out this was too stupid to be true. Sorry.]
Readers may have noted my occasional references to Blockbuster as the satisfier of my prodigous appetite for rental DVDs. I've been a customer of their online DVDs-by-mail program since the summer of 2005; at that time I pronounced it "pretty good" on this very blog.
Unfortunately, it's been a slow and bumpy trip downhill since then. The monthly fee was increased, and a number of tweaks to the program were imposed, all in an effort to make it more profitable (for them) and inconvenient (for customers).
The last straw was a slightly-sneaky change imposed last month: Previously, if you returned a mailed DVD to one of their brick-and-mortar locations, you could take a DVD from the store's shelves at no charge, plus they would send you the next available disk in your online queue. You could play this trick up to five times a month.
But now if you exchange a mailed DVD for a store DVD, that store DVD counts against the number of DVDs your plan allows you to have at home simultaneously; they don't send your next online disk unless and until you return the store DVD. (This change has brought some news coverage at the Consumerist and Slashdot.)
In addition, their online operation has grown significantly more sluggish. They used to be pretty good at "next business day" shipping of your online disks. For the past few weeks, it's been more like two business days.
The net effect of these changes is to throttle back DVD throughput to Pun Salad Manor while charging the same amount. Hmph!
So, sorry Blockbuster, but this is capitalism. I'm dumping you at the end of my current billing period.
I signed up for Netflix last Friday, and got my first three disks yesterday. This includes one that had been stuck at the top of my Blockbuster queue for months with a "Very Long Wait" annotation. Although it's mail only, the Netflix plan is a little cheaper than what I had at Blockbuster.
Just so you know: The kids who work at my local Blockbuster store are very friendly and courteous—no complaints there. I'm afraid they're gonna have to start updating their resumes, though.