I would like to have a Quaker, Amish, or other Old Community member explain the grammar of it all. I cannot think how I would convince them to tell me but perhaps if I used friendly persuasion…
Stop groaning. It could have been worse. I could have started making oatmeal jokes.
As a child I was friends with a Friends family. We lived in Spokane, Washington and our house was three doors down from their property – in a suburb that had a mixture of late-fifties ranch houses and old thirties farm property. They still had some acreage but for the life of me I can’t remember how their obvious plots of vegetables and truck fitted into a suburb that had swimming pools and barbeque pits.
Never mind – I was friends with their oldest son and we happily built model airplanes and rode bikes all over the plce. They couldn’t have been all that strict as he was still playing with plastic model airplanes and tanks.
Any road, they took me along with them to their meeting hall and like my friend I sat through their Sunday School sessions and later sat in the main hall when they held their services. It was interesting, but not likely to impinge upon my family’s ethnic basis. My mother and grandmother knew that and didn’t raise a fuss when I trailed along for the sociability of it. That and the food. Quakers make home-grown preserves and vegetables and they know how to cook. The meetings on Sunday morning were always followed by a big feed in the hall basement and everything was good. Had I stayed in Spokane longer than a year I would eventually have ended up the size of my friend…
Now the people I met didn’t thee or thou, or at least not to me. I have heard movie representations of the speech from Gary Cooper and other actors and I am not at all certain if I am hearing truth or fiction. I’ve read some parts of the bible – without laughing – and tried to pick up the speech pattern from this but here again it does not seem to be consistent with a fixed grammar. I realise it is 17th-century English I am reading and it might be asking too much of the English to make sense – considering what the rest of the language does to spelling method and word order – but I would like to get a usable handle on it. Because it is a devastatingly effective way of handling people.
Al Capone said that you can get further with a smile and a revolver than you can with a smile alone and he was right. But Al never tried the thee and thou – he might have been able to save on ammunition. If you smile gently and address people as Thee, Thou, and Friend – and do it with a straight face and never break character – you present them with something that they have never encountered before. They vaguely know that you are odd, but they they cannot fault you or become aggressive because you are not being aggressive to them. If you wear plain clothes and particularly if you wear black and shirts with no collars they are really uncomfortable. You almost seem to be clergy but without actually being so. Done well, you can tame the most aggressive types and drive the hardest of bargains – the commercial Quakers have done this for years.
The only down side is when you meet someone from one of the Dutch penal colonies like South Africa or Albany and they ask you if you are a member of the July 17th Free Radical Reformed Community Of the Elder Denomination Of The First Ministry Of The Non Schism Cornelian Church…or their enemies the July 18th ditto ditto ditto and you cannot decide what the right answer is. They get very aggressive then, and their beards, bushy eyebrows, and moustaches bristle up.
And the men are even worse.