Muriel Spark

Day Five

“One feels that this is earthquake weather, doesn’t one?” Well, does “one”? The question was put to me yesterday by an old acquaintance who lives in Florence, a man renowned for his exquisite taste. It is true that he is an aesthete. And it seems to me to be part of his character, his frequent use of the word “one,” when he means “we” in general, excluding the lumpen hoi polloi. If he had said “We feel … don’t we?” it would perhaps have meant something less exclusive; anything from a family to a nation, to the whole human race. Myself, I would have said “You feel … don’t you?” as this was normal friendly speech. I might have written “one,” although it is a usage I don’t like. Some people begin with “one” and go on with “he” (never “she”). As one goes through life one sees his friends drop away through no fault or neglect of one’s own. This is too verbally clumsy for my liking.

Then, we have to consider if we want to be included in that elitist “doesn’t one?” Generally, I don’t, and think it presumptive on the part of the speaker to suppose that I do. It is essential, in writing, to avoid pomposity. Instead of “No one wants his mother to be robbed,” I would put “No one wants their mother to be … ” I have always used this latter formula, and no one has objected.