Tuesday, July 23, 2002

"You and Thou"

Yes, I know "Thee" and "Thou" are old-fashioned, and sound a little too fancy for modern ears. But that is unfortunate in the extreme. The modernizers have lost something important, especially in religion, by getting rid of these second person forms.

Most European languages have a formal and a familiar form of the second person pronouns. In German "du" is the familiar form of "you." It get used among family and close friends. "Sie" is the formal usage: when you go to the bank the teller is addressed as "sie" not "du."

In English, "you" is historically in the formal, while "thou" is the familiar. (Didn't John Updike right a novel using entirely "thees" and "thous"? If not, who am I thinking of?) And so, in the interest of making God less "remote," more "accessible" we have really removed Him from a personal being with whom we are on intimate terms to a stranger in a bank or a retail shop, or maybe the president of a company where we are the janitors.

Yes, I know it is old-fashioned. But language really does matter, and how we use it--and especially how we address God--matters. If not, why is the Third Commandment "take not the name of the Lord in vain!"?


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