While describing a train ride, I said
We stopped at Coliseum station, and a bunch of
Raiders fans boarded. Only a sentence or two later did I think: what
we when writing proofs, even if the proof is not joint work.
we in this case refers to the reader who will carefully follow the
author's arguments; but I doubt many mathematicians deliberately choose
any more than we deliberately choose the imperative voice when we write
let n be an integer or
suppose not. For good or ill, proofs
are conventionally written in a particular style, and
we is part of the style.
But I formed the
we habit long before I started writing proofs. When Mom asked
what I'd done during a day of elementary school, I would say
we ate lunch; and we had
recess... Everyone else in the class was doing the same thing as me, at the same time,
sometimes even in cooperation with me. And so I said
And now? I stare into space; I went for a walk this evening. But if
there is any hint that someone else might be staring into space at the same time, or going
for a walk in the same direction, I'll revert to
If this seems like a lot of hot wind for a two-letter pronoun, consider the following line from an e-mail I sent during a coffee break this afternoon:
Hack hack hack. Boing boing. Hack. Boing. Um.
Dude. Which is another very interesting word...