Fwd: Re: Second person singular

James Harbeck jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA
Sun Jun 29 02:42:06 UTC 2008

>  >Fox's beef should be obvious to those who know Quaker linguistic
>>habits: he's arguing against the use of the (former) plural you
>>to individuals.  What's interesting about this book is that he
>>does it in linguistic rather than religious or class-related
>  >terms.

For sure a bit of a cute sideways argument. Of course Fox's real
objection, like that of Quakers generally until "thou" went
altogether out of use in English (and, for some Quakers, for some
time after), was to doing special honour to some individuals; the
Quakers were also opposed to doing "hat honour" -- doffing the hat to
persons of high standing. (I say "were" because nobody really does
hat honour anymore. But they still can oppose analogous formalities.)
All are equal and all have "that of God" in them. So Fox, as I think
you imply, was really just attacking it from a sideways angle, rather
than coming right at the front gate, for the sake of persuading those
for whom the Quaker line of thought was not self-evident.

But, just in case anyone thinks Quakers of today still use that kind
of speech, they don't. They also don't dress like the man on the box
of oats. Today's Society of Friends is a group of people committed to
simplicity, individual conscience and decision by consensus; they
avoid ostentation (which means you can't spot them in a crowd) and
class distinctions and are notably pacifist. There are actually two
large grouping sof Quakers, one of which (the smaller and more
localized, I think) is rather like, say, Methodists, and the other of
which worships in occasionally interrupted silence and is, on a
congregation-by-congregation basis, often in the forefront of civil
liberties causes (and Quakers have been leaders in such things as
prison reform for a long time). For example, some Quakers in New York
were advocating gay marriage in the 1970s. See http://www.quaker.org/
and http://www.quakerinfo.org/ for more info if interested.

James Harbeck.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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