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You/thou (was Re: Old Norse)

From:Marcus Smith <smithma@...>
Date:Saturday, June 17, 2000, 22:27
Nik Taylor wrote:

>"Thomas R. Wier" wrote: >> No, actually, what he said is right. "Thou" was always the standard >> singular second person pronoun, until sometime around Shakespeare's >> time > >Are you sure it was that late in time? I thought it was earlier in the >Middle English period.
Chaucer certainly makes use of the formal "you" in the Canterbury Tales: the Host talks to the Clerk using "you" but to the drunken Miller with "thou". Likewise, if you read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight we also see the distinction: Gawain speaks to King Arthur and the Lady using "you" but the Lady (trying to seduce him) uses "thou". Also, the Green Knight calls Arthur "thou" as a sign of disrespect. Fast forward to Shakespeare, and the common usage of the day is pretty clearly shown in "Henry V". King Henry (disguised as a commoner) meets up with a common soldier. They immediately begin talking to each other using "you". The conversation becomes heated and they make a duel, and at that time they switch from "you" to "thou". So the ordinary way of speaking is to use "you" but "thou" still exists as a less polite (perhaps even derogatory) form.