Backstage Writers – Think Hope Do


Postmodern Challenges – Defining Impact

Let’s Bring Back Thou

Many languages have a singular and plural form of “you.” English is no exception, although many foreign speakers of English are unfamiliar with our beloved “thou”.  Many non-natives believe “you” is the singular, or familiar, form. We Anglophones get accused of being a bit fresh with the rest of the world when we are, in fact, the greatest of stiffs, using formal address with everyone except God.

I vote we bring back “thou” to give ourselves a cozy way of addressing another person, a special person for whom we want to distinguish closeness, trust, and complicity. We could maintain our global stuffiness and reserve this familiar form for highly select, specific circumstances. Just think of the power we could load into this one little word. I suggest you try it.

Thou. Let it roll off your tongue and hang in the air. It’ll take some getting used to. I can only imagine how I’d feel, someone saying it to me in one of those brief moments of tension. I’d turn to leave. I’d feel his hand on my shoulder. He’d say, “Whither goest thou?” I’d shiver with that rush of exhilaration only a loaded word can produce.

Thou. Sigh. He thoued me.

We are not used to familiarity. “Thou” would feel like a long string of “Sweeties” and “Loves” and “Dears”. It would feel like first name usage but would carry more meaning than we could ever load into a name.

Thou. Imagine a special person saying it to you. It would feel like a tearful hug, two people reunited after decades. It would be banned from the workplace, except for after hours or with “special” colleagues. It would have such limited use we’d call it the magic pronoun or the connecting pronoun for its way of linking us to those who share our intimate space. Children would not use it on swing sets, for instance. We would only figure out its place in our lives when we would learn who and what we are. “Thou” would address the person as a naked soul. It would be uncouth to use “thou” with the postman or a telephone solicitor.

With “thou” back in use, we’d all know where we stood. “You” would have more weight. We could carry on using “you” as we’ve done for centuries, but now everyone would feel the note of respect.  And when those special moments would come, there would be no more guessing about the meaning of looks or nods. “Thou” would tell all.

Category: Postmodern Challenges

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11 Responses

  1. NomyL says:

    Very well written and thought provoking, but maybe you’ve been influenced by all your years of vouvoyer(ing) and tutoyer(ing)!

    • Melpomene says:

      You are right, except that I think “thou” would carry more weight than tu as it would be new (well, new to us) and would, therefore, have more impact.

  2. tom weathers says:

    Good stuff. There is a Gershwin tune “Of Thee I Sing”. Much better than “Of you…”.

    BTW – I’d argue for “yall” as the plural form of you, restricting “you” to singular applications.

  3. SmokeEate says:

    It is useful to try everything in practice anyway and I like that here it’s always possible to find something new. :)

  4. LorGroonFax says:

    Hi, very interesting post, greetings from Greece!

  5. Jim O'Charlotte says:

    I do love this one.
    I thought All y’all was the plural of Y’all…

  6. Bomba bomba says:

    ‘All y’all’ is used out here in the Permian basin, southeastern New Mexico to Texas. It comes accross as an emphasis on the plurality of the addressed, usually with a gentle wave of the hand, used in a question to make sure the asker knows that he/she is including all those present. It seems more Texan to me, but I am new to the region and just gathering up the accents.

  7. Robert says:

    Die formality! Thou’st royally screwed up everything. At one time it was just thou and ye, tu and vos, etc. but noooo. We need to bring it all back to way it was. Thou and ye, thou one person, ye two or more. For castilian(aka spanish), tu and vos only not tu and vosotros or ustedes or usted. That’s my opinion, and french just needs tu and vous, and Italian’s on the right track just using tu and voi.

  8. Robert says:

    I’m all for language change but not when it interferes with natural development.

  9. Martin Raim says:

    This is the first time I’ve read your stuff. “Let’s Bring Back Thou” really thou’ed me. Shivers, even. It’s funny, erudite, tongue-in-cheek, with wonderful rhythm and sustained enthusiasm. Kept me smiling. Left me smiling. Bravo.

  10. Marie says:

    Thou did a great piece of literature. Thou and Shakespeare should have met.

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