The Thou/Thee Problem

The most common such situation for lyric renewal involves the word “THOU” in its various forms (THOU, THEE, THINE).  The original usage of these pronouns is so misunderstood that their replacement in our songs and texts is very desirable.  THOU/THEE IS NOT A SIGN OF RESPECT AND FUNDAMENTALLY DISTORTS ARCHAIC ENGLISH USAGE INTENDED TO EMPHASIZE INTIMACY AND CLOSENESS OF RELATIONSHIP.

During the period that THOU was in actual common usage, it was NEVER used as a mark of respect. THOU began simply as the second person singular form; “YE/YOU/YOUR” was the plural form.  Later, YE/YOU began to be used even in a formal, singular sense, and THOU became a form (singular only) of intimacy or even DISRESPECT.  Those with superior social status would thus use THOU to address social inferiors (and hence also children).  More pertinently, THOU was used with family members and with close friends.  When early English translators determined to use THEE and THOU in Scripture that addressed God, they thus did not intend this to be a sign of RESPECT but rather as a sign of intimacy.  (So still in French, Spanish and German, the "you familiar" form continues to be used in talking with God.)  A pronoun that was meant to show INTIMACY or even DISRESPECT is now misperceived by many as suggesting RESPECT and DISTANCE.

Wikipedia summarizes the situation as follows:

Originally, thou was simply the singular counterpart to the plural pronoun ye, derived from an ancient Indo-European root. Following a process found in other Indo-European languages, thou was later used to express intimacy, familiarity or even disrespect, while another pronoun, you, the oblique/objective form of ye, was used for formal circumstances (see T–V distinction). In the 17th century, thou fell into disuse in the standard language but persisted, sometimes in altered form, in regional dialects of England and Scotland, as well as in the language of such religious groups as the Society of Friends. Early English translations of the Bible used thou and never you as the singular second-person pronoun, with the double effect of maintaining thou in usage and also imbuing it with an air of religious solemnity that is antithetical to its former sense of familiarity or disrespect. The use of the pronoun was also common in poetry.

The fact that early English translations of the Bible used the familiar form of the second person in no way indicates "disrespect" and is not surprising. The familiar form is used when speaking to God, at least in French (in Protestantism both historically and today, in Catholicism since the post-Vatican II reforms), German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Scottish Gaelic (all of which maintain the use of an "informal" singular form of the second person in modern speech).

Assuming that early song writers and translators were familiar with the proper use of THOU, modern English speakers thus tend to profoundly misinterpret its intended meaning when they encounter it in song (or employ it in writing a lyric). There is thus a especially strong case for modernizing the use of THOU to ensure that the writer’s original thought of INTIMACY/CLOSE RELATIONSHIP is most accurately conveyed to the singer.