WE AIM TO PLEASE
The phrase we aim to please was originally chiefly used as a commercial slogan meaning our customers’ satisfaction is our goal.
This phrase has come to be also used jocularly by individuals—in which case the we is ‘royal’ (the term royal we denotes we (the first-person plural pronoun) used in place of I (the first-person singular pronoun) by a monarch or other person in power, or, humorously, by any individual).
I have found an isolated early occurrence of the phrase—used, not as a commercial slogan, but as the motto of an amateur-dramatic group—in the Madras Courier (Madras, Tamil Nadu, India) of Tuesday 22nd July 1817:
We have much pleasure in noticing the continuance of Plays, at the neat little Theatre of Trichinopoly. The adroitness with which, the Thespian Cohort, selected from the Privates of H. M. 53d Regt. perform the several Characters allotted to them, must be a satisfaction to the Promoter, and Manager of this rational Entertainment:—That it is a source of amusement to the Society, is evinced, by the plaudits of the unexceptionable attendances, whenever any performance is announced. On the 7th Inst. the Comedy of “Folly as it Flies” and the Farce of the “Blue Devils,” were acted—both of these pieces went off uncommonly well,—and it would be illiberal to remark, on the inexpertness of any Character, as every person endeavoured to support, (which they did successfully) the Motto of the House
“We aim to please.”
The second-earliest occurrence that I have found of the phrase—this time used as a commercial slogan—is from the American Traveller (Boston, Massachusetts, USA) of Tuesday 20th August 1833:
We aim to Please.
Oliver Nash, Barber, respectfully informs his friends and the public, that he has removed to No. 9 Hanover street, a few doors above his former stand, where he humbly solicits them to call, and hopes by strict attention to business, to merit a share of patronage.
WE AIM TO PLEASE; YOU AIM TOO, PLEASE
The phrase we aim to please has been jocularly extended to we aim to please; you aim too, please, used in a variety of contexts.
The earliest occurrence that I have found of this extended phrase is from 37th Division Notes, published in the Alexandria Daily Town Talk (Alexandria, Louisiana, USA) of Saturday 20th September 1941—K. P. is the abbreviation of kitchen police(man):
Bivouaced in a woods during a blackout, one unnamed kitchen crew of Ohio’s 37th Division, was preparing breakfast for the next morning. An unthinking K. P. took a bucket of water and tossed the contents into the darkness at the side of a truck.
Immediately an indignant howl split the air. The water had landed squarely in the open rear of a pup tent, and the soldier inside was shouting very, very uncomplimentary words to the offending K. P.
Next morning a sign appeared on the same pup tent. It read: “We aim to please—you aim, too, please.”
The second-earliest occurrence that I have found of this extended phrase is from Comments and Cacophony, by G. A. Martin, published in the Santa Maria Daily Times (Santa Maria, California, USA) of Monday 3rd November 1941:
There was the soldier in the pit on the rifle range, who stuck up this sign: “We aim to please. Will you aim, too, please?”
Among the numerous contexts in which the extended phrase has been used, the following is interesting: we aim to please; you aim too, please occurs—apparently as a request for carefulness—in this detail from an advertisement for Osgood’s, a hardware shop, published in the Nashua Telegraph (Nashua, New Hampshire, USA) of Wednesday 8th October 1947:
12 gauge Nos. 4 – 6 – 7½ and 8
We Aim to PLEASE.
You Aim TOO—Please.
The extended phrase has often been used in reference 1) to spittoons and 2) to urinals:
1) In reference to spittoons; early occurrences:
– From the column Around Our Town, published in the East Liverpool Review (East Liverpool, Ohio, USA) of Friday 14th November 1941:
Take a lonely desk sergeant on a quiet night, supply him with a pen and paper and he’ll come up with one of those bizarre signs that appear in the police department occasionally.
For instance, the one that somebody dreamed up to encourage accuracy in would-be users of the spittoons: “We aim to please; you aim, too, please!”
– From the column So They Say – – –, published in the Marshall County News (Marysville, Kansas, USA) of Thursday 29th October 1942:
According to the Gove County Gazette, a custodian arranged cuspidors conveniently in the court room, then hung up this sign: “We aim to please. You aim, too, please.”
2) In (originally implicit) reference to urinals; early occurrences:
– From the column Innocent Bystander, by Ollie M. James, published in The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio, USA) of Wednesday 21st November 1951:
A. C. Reader of Cincinnati says he saw a notice in a filling station washroom: “We aim to please. You aim too, please.”
– From the National Road Traveler (Cambridge City, Indiana, USA) of Thursday 25th March 1954:
Ivan Glidewell […] just returned from Florida, where he had gone to see the rain and enjoy some bracing atmosphere. And he read some signs down the way. This one he saw posted in a toilet in a roadside inn: “We aim to please! Will you ‘aim’ too, please?” And a passing wag, probably from this vicinity or farther south, had penciled a notation on the sign: “No sight on my gun.”