Disuse of the impersonal pronoun *one*

We have a tendency to want to say “ones.” The Bhagavan is the “Blessed One” in some translations. He’s also the “Blessed” without that “One.” Aryas can be “nobles” and “holies” without their “ones.” What do people think of “the holies” or “the nobles” as a translation for “the aryas/the saints?” What do people think about “the saints?” “Saint” is simply an idiomatic English version of the word “holy” in the Romance languages.

EDIT: I did not start this thread. This is a split thread. My initial comment also is not about a pronoun.


That’s a good point. I think it’s a holdover from older translations. The last time I was in an English department (a few years ago), using “one” as a pronoun would generally considered gauche. It’s just too formal sounding today.


@cdpatton … so what’s politically correct nowadays?

The blessed man is a derogatory phrase where I grew up.

Gender neutral pronouning is difficult here: The blessed they doesn’t seem to have the right ring.


I think we can afford to sound a bit formal and old-timey when it comes to religion.

neither does “the Blessed he” which would be the gendered version of that. Gender neutral terms like person or being feel inadequate for referring to the Tathagatha. So I vote for sticking to pali or old-fashioned English.


But the “one” in “the Blessed One” isn’t the same as the “one” in a sentence like, “One would hope so.”

The former is a perfectly informal prop-word and isn’t subject to the anti-snootiness stricture that’s nowadays imposed on the impersonal pronoun “one”.


That’s very true. TBH, I quoted the wrong bit of @coemgenu’s post. It’s fine to simply say “the nobles” or " the wise" without adding “one” or “ones” to me. For epithets of the Buddha, or any other unique deity-type-of-thing like Brahma or Indra, the “one” functions to tells us this is a particularly blessed being, not to be confused all those other ordinarily blessed people in the world.


The modern English dislike of “one” as standing for a person isn’t related to forcing gender-neutrals onto a language that lacks them. Once upon a time, it was consider gauche to ever address the reader as “you” or for the writer to use “I” or “me” when writing formally (such as business writing or publication). That’s been reversed now, so there’s no need to avoid second or first-person pronouns.

The other issue is that there’s a pretty hard drive towards efficient use of words. When we use a word like “one,” it’s usually a stand-in for better words. So, for instance, instead of saying “noble ones” we could instead say “noble people” or just “nobles”. It’s just stylistic guidelines for writing. For the same reasons, English profs generally frown on starting sentences with “there is” or using convoluted passive voice constructions that could just as easily be simpler active voice sentences.


This is all true. I’ve also been an English Prof in my time! These days what is considered to be good practice in the USA tends to rule the world. The impersonal one persisted much longer in British English and, I must confess, I mourn its passing for the reason that replacing it with you renders you potentially ambiguous.


Well, don’t mourn, fight back! In my British English (and my stepdaughter’s too, I’m happy to say) the impersonal “one” persists to this day! Along with such nice distinctions as those between disinterest and uninterest, continual and continuous, further and farther, which and that, envy and jealousy, and all the others discussed by the Fowler brothers in their 1906 classic, The King’s English.

Long live Edwardian prescriptive grammar!



:uk: :uk: :uk:

I’ve been in Australia too long … :cry: :australia:

The use of impersonal you causes me a lot strife. I have a friend who rings me up (not ‘calls me’ :wink: ) and says things like, “You should do so and so.” I feel I’m being pushed around and they claim that they are only generalising about the world in general!

In fact, in the interests of right speech, I think that impersonal you should be banned.


And there’s also the use of “we”. One of my colleagues (English, but long based in the US) was rather irate when a journal changed all of his "we"s to "I"s, because there was only one author. In this case it wasn’t a “Royal we”, as in “We are not amused…”, but an indication that the author and the reader are exploring together: “From equation 4 we calculate…”.

[I read a story sometime ago about someone adding his cat as co-author to avoid this problem. :sweat_smile:]


I thought I’d better move this digression to its own thread before someone accuses the mods of aiding and abetting poor forum discipline. :rofl:


I hope the feline is collecting a high number of citations. :cat:


wait… There are people who use these interchangeably?! BLASPHEMY!


Blasphemy I’m sure! However, I would say that the same American journal that changed my colleague’s "we"s to "I"s is very clear that “which” and “that” are not interchangeable, and how they should be used.

Apparently, though, British English can be slightly more lenient in the use of which: link


I discourage my students from using the second-person “you/your/yours” because it has the ring of the imperative voice which I also discourage. I want my students to adopt an analytical, not advocacy, tone in their writing. The purpose should be to explain an issue or concept, not advocate for something. Using the second-person “you” often implies that the reader is being directed to think a certain way or adopt a certain position, as opposed to simply being presented with an objective, dispassionate, third-person analysis.

I also find the second-person to be off-putting, especially when it makes it seem as if I, the reader or listener, am being subtly encouraged to think a certain way. Case in point: I was watching one of the network television news programs in the United States several years ago and the anchor started reporting on a story in this way: “You would think…” My reaction was, “Says who? Who are you to tell me how or what I would think?” I don’t want to be told in the second-person what some news anchor presumes I am thinking. If he is going to smuggle in assumptions about how people think, a third-person perspective along the lines of “One would think…” is still rather presumptuous, but not as arrogant as “You would think.”

For more on the use of “you,” I find this entry at Common Errors in English Usage to be helpful:


I have never been aware of this American distinction. And to think that I was once a teaching assistant in the States. How dreadful my I must have let my students down!!!

Australian English is much more forgiving, having collected influences from everywhere. In fact Microsoft made their Australian dictionary and grammar check rather quickly, by throwing together their USA and UK recourses. :tired_face:

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Yes, the Fowler brothers wouldn’t be very pleased at all:

“… if we are to be at the expense of maintaining two different relatives, we may as well give each of them definite work to do.”


Bhante, thank you for the link that you gave above, which I believe is generally how I understand it… :slight_smile:

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F.D.C. Willard is a very well respected scientist and even promoted to a consultant role with Michigan State. He’s properly cited!

WHEN ONE READS A PHYSICS paper in an esteemed journal, one does not generally wonder if it was written by a cat. But such was the case for an article in the 1970s credited to co-author F.D.C. Willard—the Cat Who Published.
Jack H. Hetherington was a professor of physics at Michigan State University in 1975, when he finished what would become an influential and often-cited physics paper. The academic writing, entitled Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc 3He, was an in-depth exploration of atomic behavior at different temperatures. It would have flown over the heads of most lay people, not to mention cats.