19 February 2007


To speak in the third person might strike a gentle reader as odd, irritating, or a little cold, perhaps?

One first heard this antiquated style used by the Queen of England addressing her subjects, and you might imagine that a child growing up in a former colony didn’t appreciate her tone. It sounded forced; by association it was considered false, artificial and insincere.

In later years, one discovered that it also made an appearance in books written before one was born. In such cases, ‘one’ was used by those of propriety whenever referring to themselves, or alternatively to convey standards held by an imaginary upper-class member of society who must know exactly what ought to be done in any given situation. A moral imperative and a sense of superiority were implied, along with distain for whatever one was not, which helps understand why use of the term was reassuring for those who felt included and so provoking for those who did not.

Although perhaps ‘one’ is not quite so reassuring as it first appears, for its use necessarily implies the existnce of ‘them’ as well as ‘us’. What if you suffered from self doubt and weren’t sure to which group you belonged?

There is a certain distance implied whenever 'one' is used; certainly a distance from those who are not one, but also a certain distance from oneself. Whether the speaker is acknowledging a distance that already exists, or choosing to impose a distance, can often be implied by the context.

Returning to the Queen, arguably it was more honest and appropriate for her to acknowledge social and geographical distance by adopting a formal tone.

It is not so difficult to imagine why someone might want to impose a distance, whether between oneself and others, or oneself and one’s public persona. For some, it’s a form of self defence; keeping at a distance, or keeping things at a distance, can be a way to feel safer.

Another curious thing about ‘one’ is how unity and wholeness are suggested whenever the word appears. There is a tendency to speak of the individual's character, despite all contractions and idiosyncrasies, as forming a single complete whole… not something fractured or broken. There is a tendency to speak of a singular entity when reference is made to the ‘gay community’, which invokes a notion of a homogenous group, capable of being identified and represented.

So many interesting aspects to my much-used little word.

One… it is also the loneliest number that you’ll ever do; much, much worse than two.

It does have limitations, of course. I am perfectly aware of that. Let me assure you, no one speaks like this in the place where I grew up, and before returning, there are a few words that I would like to say.

Sincerely grateful to those who return to visit my humble bloguette, in particular those who have taken trouble of emailing or commenting on occasion, I would simply like to say... thank you for reading.


JoyZeeBoy said...

Regarding your use of the 3rd person "one", I've assumed all along that you humourously use it as a literary device, as part of a pose. A masque, if you will. I've never imagined for a moment that you were truly that egotistical (or that schizophrenic).

It is, as you pointed out, most commonly used by the Queen of England and other Mannequins Royaux. (My favourite locution of the English Queen is definitely "My husband and I").

I may not be your most fervent daily reader, but I do drop by now and then and actually read what you post.

Ms C Qrisp said...

Gracious thanks... dropping by AND reading... AND getting it... AND commenting!

It's almost too much pleasure!