Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mind Thy P(ronoun)s and Qs

Though you might not believe me, informal second personal pronouns have come up in conversation several times recently.  (Actually, if you know me, you're probably not surprised by this.)  Normally this is because the person with whom I'm speaking either doesn't know what these forms of speech mean or, if s/he does know what they mean, doesn't know the correct usage for them.

The history of these terms is interesting, if only in comparison to what most people think of them.  Ask Joe the Plumber about thou, and he would probably say it is an archaic, formal version of you.  In reality, however, thou was originally the only singular second pronoun, while ye was plural.  Over time, thou became informal singular while you was formal singular and plural. 

(This is why, in the Bible, God speaks to us using thou--we are subordinate to Him and He therefore speaks informally to us.  It's very similar to tu (thou) and su (you) in Spanish.  Speaking of Spanish, I once tutored an ESL student who read Romeo and Juliet, wrote an entire paper on Juliet's definition of love, and then asked me, "What does 'thou' mean, anyway?"  Ouch.)* 

Rather than telling you what wikipedia has to say about these informal second personal pronouns, however, allow me to show you the situations when you will use thou, thee, and thy using excerpts of the No. 1 Billboard hit of 2009, "Thou Belongest With Me," by Taylor Swift:
Thou art on the phone with thy girlfriend, she's upset
She's going off about something that thou saidest
She doesnt get thy humour like I do
I'm in the room, it's a typical Tuesday night
I'm listening to the kind of music she doesn't like
And she'll never know thy story like I do

But she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts
She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers
Dreaming 'bout the day when thou wilt wake up and find
That what thou art lookin' for has been here the whole time

If thou could'st see that I'm the one who understands thee
Been here all along so why canst thou see?
Thou belongest with me
Thou belongest with me.
Oh I remember thee driving to my house in the middle of the night
I'm the one who makes thee laugh when thou knowest thou art about to cry
I know thy favorite songs and thou tellest me thy dreams
I think I know where thou belongest. I think I know it's with me.

Canst thou see that I'm the one who understands thee?
Been here all along so why canst thou see?
Thou belongest with me.
* I'm not going to cite a source other than my memory.  I took a "History of the English Language" Course at UCLA which ended up being a linguistics course for English majors that was one of the hardest classes ever.  Luckily for me, however, it helped immensely with the Medieval Literature and Chaucer classes I later took.

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