Who Is To: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
January 20, 2024

The phrase "who is to" is often used to question the authority, right, or qualification of a person to make a judgment, take an action, or give advice. It implies skepticism or doubt about someone's ability or moral standing to do something.

In short:

  • It questions a person's right or qualification to do something.
  • It is used to express doubt or challenge someone's authority or position.

What Does "Who Is To" Mean?

The phrase "who is to" is typically used in a rhetorical context, often to challenge or question someone's actions or opinions. It's commonly used when someone is perceived to be overstepping their bounds or making judgments without proper authority or expertise. For instance, if someone says, "Who is he to tell me how to do my job?" they are questioning the other person's qualifications or right to give them advice or instructions regarding their work. This phrase is a way of expressing disagreement or skepticism about the legitimacy of someone else's point of view or actions.

More about the phrase's meaning:

  • It implies skepticism about someone's expertise or moral right to judge or advise.
  • This phrase is used to express disagreement with someone's presumed authority.
  • It is often rhetorical and suggests that the person in question lacks the right or qualification.
  • The phrase is commonly used in discussions where the legitimacy of someone's authority or expertise is in question.
  • Similar phrases include "Who are you to" and "What gives you the right?

Where Does "Who Is To" Come From?

The exact origin of the phrase "who is to" is not clearly defined, but it is a construction that has been used in the English language for centuries. It belongs to a category of rhetorical questions that are used to challenge authority or express skepticism. The phrase has been used in various forms of literature and speech to question the legitimacy of someone's actions or opinions.

Historical Example

"Who is to decide when doctors disagree, and soundest casuists doubt, like you and me?"

- Alexander Pope, "Moral Essays," 1731-1735

10 Examples of "Who Is To" in Sentences

To help you understand how to use this phrase, let's look at some examples from different situations:

  • In the grand scheme of things, who is to judge the rightness of our choices?
  • She harps on about punctuality all the time, but who is she to talk when she's never on time herself?
  • In the debate, one speaker asked, "Who is to determine the best course of action in such a complex issue?"
  • I've always been open to new ideas, so who am I not to give it a chance, even if it seems unconventional at first?
  • During the meeting, she challenged the proposal by asking, "Who is to benefit from these changes?"
  • When it comes to personal matters, who is he to dig the dirt on others when he's so secretive about his own life?
  • The teacher encouraged critical thinking by asking, "Who is to decide what is historically significant?"
  • If I can barely manage my own affairs, who am I to advise others on theirs, much less criticize their choices?
  • Who is to say what the future holds, especially in an era where technology and society are changing so rapidly?
  • When faced with the vast expanse of the universe and the mysteries it holds, who is to declare what is truly possible or impossible?

Examples of "Who Is To" in Pop Culture

This phrase is also seen in pop culture, usually in contexts that involve questioning authority or the status quo.

Here are a few examples:

  • Ray Gwyn Smith in his quote, reflects on the violence of language loss: "Who is to say that robbing a people of its language is less violent than war?"
  • Virginia Woolf muses on the unpredictability of words in her quote: "There is no stability in this world. Who is to foretell the flight of a word? It is a balloon that sails over tree-tops."
  • In the movie "The Powerpuff Girls," a line stands out: "It's you who is to be feared," highlighting the girls' realization of the true threat.
  • The song "He Who Is To Come" by Passion, Kristian Stanfill, and Cody Carnes, anticipates a day of transformation and hope.

Synonyms: Other Ways to Say "Who Is To"

Here are some alternative phrases that convey a similar meaning:

  • Who has the right
  • Who's in a position to
  • Who can judge
  • Who decides
  • Who's responsible for
  • On whose authority
  • Who gets to decide
  • Whose place is it to
  • Who determines
  • Under whose judgment

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Who Is To":

  • What does "who is to" mean?

"Who is to" is a phrase used to question someone's authority, right, or qualification to make a judgment or take an action. It expresses skepticism or doubt about their legitimacy in doing so.

  • How can I use "who is to" in a sentence?

You can use it as a rhetorical question to challenge or express doubt. For example: "Who is to decide what's best in this situation?" or "Who is to blame for this error?

  • Is "who is to" more commonly used in formal or informal settings?

The phrase can be used in both formal and informal contexts. Its use depends more on the situation where questioning authority or legitimacy is relevant.

  • Can "who is to" be used to question moral authority?

Yes, it can be used to question not just expertise or official authority, but also moral authority or the right to judge someone's actions or choices.

  • Is "who is to" a modern phrase?

It's a phrase with historical roots but remains relevant in modern language, often used in discussions about authority and responsibility.

  • Can this phrase be seen as confrontational?

It can be seen as confrontational in some contexts, as it inherently questions or challenges someone's position or actions.

  • Is "who is to" used in legal contexts?

Yes, it can be used in legal discussions to question the authority or jurisdiction of individuals or entities in making legal decisions or judgments.

  • Does this phrase have a negative connotation?

The phrase can have a negative connotation if it's used to strongly challenge or undermine someone's position or actions.

  • Can "who is to" be applied to personal situations?

Yes, it can be applied in personal situations, such as questioning someone's right to make decisions in a relationship or family matter.

  • Does "who is to" imply a lack of confidence in the person being questioned?

It may imply skepticism or a lack of confidence in the person's authority, expertise, or moral standing in the specific context it is used.

Final Thoughts About "Who Is To"

The phrase "who is to" is a useful linguistic tool for questioning the legitimacy of authority, decisions, or actions in a variety of contexts. It's applicable in both personal and professional settings and serves as a way to challenge or provoke thought about responsibility and qualifications.

To recap:

  • It is a phrase that questions someone's authority or rights in a given situation.
  • Useful in both formal and informal settings, it can provoke thought and discussion.
  • It can be seen as confrontational or skeptical, depending on the context.
  • Applicable in legal, personal, and moral contexts, it highlights issues of responsibility and legitimacy.

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