Sunday, October 26, 2003

You and Thou

I just finished reading The Unselfishness of God, the interesting and very well written spiritual autobiography of Hannah Whitall Smith. Read it if you can find it, though I think it's out of print. She's the one who wrote The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life.

Pardon me if this seems tangental, but something that has always bugged me is that the English language has no plural for the word "you." "I" has "we," and "you" has ... uh, "you." I've sometimes thought that we should adopt the Southern expression, "you all," or "ya'll."

Interestingly, Smith's book gives some insight into the "you" question.

She grew up as a Quaker (though she modified her views substantially) and the book has a lot of background on Quaker practice.

At one time, she said, Quakers refused to use the word "you," instead favoring "thee" or "thou." The reason, she said, is because when the Quakers began, "thee" and "thou" were the singular and "you" was the plural. But also at that time people were beginning to use "you" as a mark of respect in addressing nobility.

Well, the Quakers believed in equality and weren't about to put up with the inequality implied in the use of "you," so they wouldn't use it. But "you" gradually began to be used for everybody, but the Quakers had gotten into the habit of avoiding it, though the reason for avoiding it had gone away.

A couple of things occur to me from this story. First, I kinda wish the Quakers had won this battle, so we would have the plural I've long wanted. Second, I wonder if there are ways we act or habits we've formed as Christians for which there is no longer a good reason.

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