Dear Sir:

     Re Canon Pulford’s timely letter concerning ‘youing’ God . Having being brought up to pray Biblically and as one trained in linguistics, I look upon the modern arbitrary trend in English-speaking countries with great disdain. My past employment brought me into contact with some dozen languages other than English, none of which show such lack of taste in addressing God.

     Words usually become redundant according to three processes. The first is when two words are synonymous and one is gradually preferred to the other. Thus, in English, we have ‘welkin’ and ‘clouds’ to describe the same phenomenon and now merely use ‘clouds’. The second linguistic ‘law’ is when a word with many meanings is adapted through special usage to refer to fewer. Thus, we no longer use the word ‘prevent’ to mean ‘go before’ but only in the sense of ‘hinder’ or ‘stop’. A third redundancy occurs when a word, because of the first two processes, has not only taken on a more narrow meaning but also a highly negative one and is thus considered either politically or socially offensive. Here in Germany, up to the sixties, ‘heil’ was the normal word used in greeting as it meant, haleness, wholeness, good health or heartiness. Our Saviour, for instance, is called Heiland in German, i.e. the Healer. When Elizabeth II visited Germany in 1662, it was planned to greet her with ‘Heil Elizabeth’. Some sensitive people pointed out that Hitler had been so greeted – as had been everyone else – and thus it would be inappropriate to use the term to greet Elizabeth. There was a tremendous debate on the subject and it was decided to ban the ambiguous term altogether.

     None of these normal processes are reverted to in the modern use of ‘you’ instead of ‘Thou’ when addressing God. There is no rhyme or reason behind it. English Christians tell me that ‘Thou’ is old-fashioned and therefore inaccurate in every-day speech. As a word only becomes old-fashioned after it has been dropped, the action of proclaiming a word old-fashioned and then dropping it reflects the linguistics of Carroll’s Humpty-Dumpty who made words mean what he wanted them to mean. Such arbitrary action can only reflect negatively on our attitude to language in general and our worship of God in particular.

Yours sincerely,

George M. Ella