The History of Quaker Plain Speech

The Quaker conviction of equality sometimes caused small changes in behavior that ultimately had radical consequences. Thomas Hamm explains the origins of Quaker plain speech.

Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

8 thoughts on “The History of Quaker Plain Speech

  1. Well expressed, clear explanations, and still worth thinking about.

    I love being with Friends who still use “thee,” though “thou” is not so much used anymore — “thee” is used for both the nominative and the subjective, which still accomplishes the “equalizing” of people, but isn’t great grammar. And we don’t use the familiar form of the verb, “—eth,” either. We say ” thee speaks the truth” rather than “thou speaketh the truth.” Language is so fluid a process, even when we are seeking to be faithful, huh?

    But more seriously, when I use these “old-fashioned” manners of speech, it lets me feel closer to our roots as Friends, and makes me more aware of how important all our speech is. I hope you’ll be doing something more about “truthful speech” in a future video, Jon.

  2. Wonderful explanations of various Quaker faith and practices! It would be great to see the same type of explanations on our decision making process.
    Thank you,

  3. Thank you for these moving and excellent explanations of some of our Quaker practices and faith beliefs. Id like to suggest the same offerings on another of our unique processes, “Decision-making.”
    Blessings and keep up the wonderful and excellent outreach.
    Dorothy S. Richards
    Albany NY

  4. a Quaker who fought in the Civil War captured a Confederate General and relived the general of his weaponry and horse. Those captured items became the property of the federal government. If a Quaker kept a personal item for a memento would he have said in plain speak the word “stolen”?

  5. In traditional Plain Speech, how do you conjugate “to be”? Would you say “thee is”, in analogy to how one would say “thee wishes” or “What does thee wish?”

  6. Would a Quaker say “thee/thy” to someone who was *not* a Quaker? Would s/he address that person as “Friend Jones,” or is “Friend” just for other members of the denomination?

  7. Thanks for the delightful video! Many many years ago (so things may have changed ) I had a wonderful Quaker boyfriend, who always addressed me as “thee” and would say, “Thee is…,” and so on. He used “thy” for “your,” and “thine” when it was not followed by a noun. (eg., “Is this thy book?” but “This book isn’t thine, is it?”) The only “thee’s” he used were when he meant , “Thee is …,” never in the possessive sense. I wonder how things have changed over the years.
    Though this does not add much to the discussion, I remember his telling me how he and his older brother, when children, once had a heated argument in which one of them told the other, “Thee YOU thee!” That was the closest they could get to speaking venomously. It still makes me smile to remember it. They were a lovely family.

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