Tom Muzzio
Tom Muzzio
T.E. Publisher
Ambiguity of WE Return to Vignettes menu
Howling at the Moon

Who is WE?

Have you ever heard that question? Who is we?

I grew up with that question ... that ambiguity. Didn't we all?

Who's WE?

We like IKE!
Who's WE?

We like spinach!

Who's WE?

I like spinach.
You don't?
Well then, WE don't like spinach!
I like spinach!

Do you like IKE?
Yes, but do I?
Well, I don't know.

How can a culture as advanced and specific as ours be so ambiguous about the word "WE?"

WHO is WE?

We ... meaning you and I?

Or ... WE, meaning I (and another party), but not you?

For example:

We are friends.

Simple sentence.

Meaning...

He and I are friends, but I have not known you long enough to call us "friends."

Or... You and I are friends, but I have not known him long enough to call us friends.

Two contrary concepts are rendered identically in the world's most widely used language. This presents a problem. For years, I just lived with it as we all do ... explaining who WE is when there is a question.

Then I moved to the Philippines and began learning Tagalog. Most Americans and Europeans don't even know about this wonderful language. It's not (TAG a Log). It's actually Ta GA log. But anyway...

We is never a problem. Filipinos have two words for WE. The first, Tayo, includes the hearer. The second, Kami, excludes the hearer. How perfectly brilliant! With all our innovations such as satellites and email, why haven't WE come up with something so great?

Tayo na sa Antipolo. It's a fun song, the words of which mean: "Let's all go." Or better: "WE all go to Antipolo (near Manila)." When anyone hears Tayo, he or she knows that he or she is included.

However, if it were to be Kami na sa Antipolo ... that means something altogether different: "We (some of us, but not you) are going to Antipolo."

Having two words for WE makes life far easier and less confusing. If I were to say to a friend, "We are getting married on Tuesday," I presume he would understand what I meant. And, likewise, if I said, "We have to pay our taxes by Tuesday," he would also understand. However, if I said, "We are going to shoot ourselves on Tuesday," he might still say, "Who's we?"


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