tannoy blog — thou

building in canal

I’m hacked off with the language convolutions needed to separate you singular and you plural. It’s worse than using they instead of he or she to avoid gender sleights—at least you can write (s)he, even if you have to say the ugly he or she.

I’ve heard people use you singular, you plural, you all, you’ll, yous, many words to distinguish between the two meanings. All of them feel ugly and convoluted to me.

I’d prefer to restore the made for purpose word, thou.

I’ve been told people can’t get their head around thou, thee, thy and thine, even though they’ll happily use the rhyming I, me, my, and mine. But I do see their point; trying to work out which to use when can badly interrupt a conversation. However, all it needs is a little practise, and it’ll soon become automatic.

I’m not so sure about the various second person verb forms, though. In parts of Yorkshire, and no doubt other places in the world, thou never died, and you hear people saying “thou art”, “thou ist”, etc. (actually, you hear ”thou’rt“, ”thou’st“). To me, it’s all gloriously simple, it works, and I use them occasionally myself even though my entire time in South Yorkshire, beyond travelling through, adds up to about two weekends.

But I may grasp thou because I was schooled in Shakespeare; I learnt it in my childhood. I suspect those many peoples across the world who learn English as a second language don’t get introduced to Shakespeare, don’t get introduced to thou. Asking them to fully grasp all the second person verb forms might be optimistic. I don’t think this is such a problem, because just using thy, thee, thy, thine with the you verb form would still be clear, would restore a useful elegance.

And if thou returned, that’d create a good momentum to come up with a neutral word to mean he, she, or it, however the honoured being defines him / her / itself, and considers free of sleight. I think I’d plump for the old English word that carried that meaning, which still does in sibling languages such as Dutch: he. Hey, we could cheat, and literally swipe the Dutch for he, hij, pronounced hey (hehehe …).