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Culture & Religion

Emperors and Tapeworms

"What is it about the presumptuous use of 'we' that inspires so much outrage, facetious or otherwise?" Ben Zimmer on the contentious use of the plural subject pronoun.

“Consider Roscoe Conkling, who served as senator from New York after the Civil War. In 1877, Conkling objected to how the new president, Rutherford B. Hayes, overused the word we, and The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported his rejoinder: ‘Yes, I have noticed there are three classes of people who always say ‘we’ instead of ‘I.’ They are emperors, editors and men with a tapeworm.’ Conkling’s formulation was picked up by we-haters far and wide. The trifecta of “kings, editors and people with tapeworm” has been widely attributed to Mark Twain, but like so many witticisms credited to him, there’s no record he ever said it.”


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