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Quoting from a novel:

Sie haben Glück, mein Sohn. Seine Magnifizenz der Hochsekretär geruhen, Ihnen ein Paar Minuten seiner kostbaren Zeit zu widmen.

This seems to be a singular subject with a plural verb form. Is this akin to the custom by which kings and popes refer to themselves as "we"? Or did I miss something?

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    FYI: There is an Austrian satirical TV show, Wir sind Kaiser, which makes frequent use of both the pluralis majestatis and another peculiarity, adressing somebody in third person. – Cacambo Jan 2 at 11:48
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Is this akin to the custom by which kings and popes refer to themselves as "we"?

Yes it is.

Seine Magnifizenz der Hochsekretär ... geruhen ...

Is an indicator for this (now obsolete) form. Basically it is pluralis majestatis, that was used for high rank aristocrats, or even officials (like in your example).

Other examples of indicators:

Seine Hochwohlgeboren Graf von Koks ... geruhen ...

Ihre Majestät ... geruhen ...

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  • .... and what about the phrase "mein Sohn"? In English an older man speaking informally may address a younger man as "son", but somehow I have the impression that this is more like the phrase "my son" by which a clergyman may address a member of his congregation, and that is a more formal usage. Is that what this is? – Michael Hardy Dec 11 '19 at 5:27
  • @MichaelHardy I don't understand your question. – πάντα ῥεῖ Dec 11 '19 at 7:11
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    @Nick The verb geruhen is in plural form. – πάντα ῥεῖ Dec 11 '19 at 11:43
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    @Nick : Why would "Ihre Majestät" be plural? If I say "Ihr Haus ist neu.", is "Ihr Haus" plural? And if so, would I be wrong to say "Ihr Haus ist neu." rather than "Ihr Haus sind neu."? – Michael Hardy Dec 12 '19 at 21:39
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    @MichaelHardy A clergyman would usually address a person of his parish or somebody with lower social status as "Mein Sohn". "Seine Hochmagnifizienz" seems not be a word though. "Maginifizienz" is the head of a university nowadays. I old times he might have been a clergyman as well. – Steffen Roller Dec 16 '19 at 20:33

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