Next time someone complains about singular "they" I'll point them to this 17th century rant against singular "you"

(Basically my only tweet that ever "did numbers". Screenshot here for posterity.)

The best thing about this tweet is it always gets me lots of new non-binary moots. I hope they appreciate my content, which is almost strictly cats and baduk.


Source: The History of Thomas Elwood, written by Himself, London, 1885, pp. 32-34,

Discovered from cite in "The Varieties of Religious Experience," by William James, 1902.

@mwl Thank you for sourcing this! I was about to ask if it was George Fox or someone else among the valiant sixty.

@kacey for a second i thought you meant the queer icon, the babadook


Roses are red,
violets are blue
singular “they” is older
than singular “you”

@urbanhiker @kacey Aah, that explains it. From memory, I believe singular “you” is much older than 1600, possibly being imported grammatically from Norman French “vous” (vs “tu” for “thou”). People would have been using singular “you” for centuries (like singular “they” now), except Quakers, who I guess made a point of not making a T-V distinction.

@kacey To be honest, it all started to go wrong when those crazy kids stopped using proper Anglo-Saxon dual pronouns....

@hengymrohebwlad @kacey

But does “us two” include the speaker and the person being addressed, or the speaker and one other who is not the person being addressed??

@donaghy @kacey No idea. Perhaps the confusion was why the use of these pronouns died out!

@hengymrohebwlad @kacey

We have this in English, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there are languages where there are two "we" pronouns, one for each of those.

I'm actually a thouist myself - I spend way too much time saying "you - I mean all of you, not just you..." and other stuff that adds meaning to the vague "you" that we currently use!

@donaghy @kacey Yes, this seems to be a feature of some indigenous North American languages e.g. Cree and Inuktitut:

I wouldn't be surprised if this also happens in Australian Aboriginal languages, which often encode incredibly complex and subtle information about relationships and kinship.

@hengymrohebwlad @kacey

Doesn’t the dual persist in English a tiny little bit? Isn’t “oxen” originally a dual? And although “shoon” is archaic, I think even that persists as a brand name for a shoe shop.

@donaghy @kacey Not sure about oxen. Could just be similar plural suffix to "children". English plurals are a mess because of mixed origins, loss of older endings, generalising one example to others, simplification of using "-s" as suffix etc. Some Germanic plurals based on vowel change (umlaut) e.g. goose/geese or mouse/mice. Sometimes no suffix e.g. fish, sheep.

Mind you, Welsh plurals are even worse - different suffixes, umlaut, "singulative" endings etc. Great fun!

@kacey @otfrom I always found this resistance to "pronouns" in English hilarious. All my lecturers at college, most of the academic literature we read, generally formal English used "they/them" all the time. There is nothing particularly new about it. If there is resistance, it's not premised on linguistics, it's premised on politics.

@acousticmirror @kacey @otfrom I think there's a linguistic argument to be made for a third-person singular pronoun that stays conjugation-consistent with he/she/it. Take the following for example: "Andrea is going for a walk and they are bringing their dogs." The conjugation changes number despite referring to the same subject, creating extra ambiguity/confusion.

Unfortunately English just doesn't have a standardized number-disambiguated pronoun for this purpose, even despite the efforts of many neopronoun inventors. (Though I'm partial to "ey/em/eir/emself", perhaps with a starting apostrophe.)
One common idea is he/she, but as @djsumdog mentioned, this is annoying to use, and also doesn't accommodate non-binary people. So it's common to just default to the already-existent "they", despite its flaws.

Meanwhile, I would LOVE to have number disambiguation for second person. I use "y'all" regularly for precisely this reason.

@acousticmirror @kacey @otfrom excessive gendering in speech is a unique trait of the boomer generations speech patterns in England, the literary rule is once a gender is established further genderibgnis needless and rude, so "she went to the market and she had a good time" is incorrect English it should be "she went to the market and they had a good time" by original English language rules.

@acousticmirror @kacey @otfrom another odd trait of the boomer generation is excessive use of a person's name in speech, which is also seen as rude by the generations before.

@kacey of course on the West Coast of Scotland, Gaelic speakers moving to English needed a plural form of you, so they devised youse. And in the US both youse and y’all may be heard as plural forms to fill the gap caused by using you as a singular.
So we have gone full circle.

@kacey ps. In some rural areas of England, thou is still in use. Quite correct! that's awesome, do you have a source? (Not adversarially, just curious)

my favourite thing birdsite has taught me is that singular "they" is so old that the first known written instance is spelled with a þorn.

@kacey I wouldn't mind at all if he and she went the way of thou. Or if Finnish or Chinese became the lingua franca of planet Earth.

@kacey Pretty much exactly what I do when people complain about singular "they", even if without the detailed quote.

@kacey it's almost like language evolves over time or something. Who woulda thunk.

Announcing my new pronouns are thou/thoust.

@kacey it's like people don't understand that language is completely made up and changes almost solely based on how its used

Yep, if someone isn't using "thou" they can fuck right off lol

@kacey this is so good, I read a thread on the bird site not long ago showing old newspaper articles with a similar issue

@kacey My mum remembers getting into trouble at school for using thee and thou as it was considerd dialectical and Not Proper English. From which, I gather, the main lesson she learned was not to let herself be overheard by teachers.

@kacey i absolutely love this, linguistics is perpetually fascinating.

Woe!! Woe!!! The use of "you" as a singular has DEPRAVED THE MANNERS OF MEN!!!

I didn't even realize (or if I knew it I have entirely forgotten) that "you" used to refer to more than one, and "thou" was the singular.

@kacey then what was used before “your”? Thor? Thine?

Thou has lost … thine fortunes?

@mitka Thy or thine (think my or mine then change m to th)

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