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.
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Quaker plain speaking originated in a desire to avoid anything that was associated with practices or beliefs that were un-Christian, that even indirectly honored pagan deities, and in the Quaker belief in the spiritual equality of all people and a desire to avoid practices which served to puff up human vanity and a feeling that some people—simply by birth or rank—were better than others.
#1 – The Calendar
First of all, the Quaker plain language or plain speech had its own version of the calendar.
Quakers were not unique, but they were probably most conspicuous in believing that it was improper for godly people—good Christians—to use the normal names of the days of the week and the months of the year, since they were largely originally intended to honor Pagan gods.
So for example, Monday was in honor of the moon god, Sunday in honor of the Sun God, so on and so forth and in the same way the months of the year honored pagan gods like Julius Caesar or Augustus or Maya, so the Quaker calendar used simple numbers. Thus, Sunday became “First Day” (the day on which Friends would go to Meeting), the months of the year in the same way became first month, second month, and so on.
#2 – “Thee” and “Thou”
The second element of Quaker plain speaking was the refusal to use the word “you” to a single person.
Under the rules of English grammar as they would have existed in the 1650s or 1660s, it was understood that proper usage was to use “thee” or “thou” to a single person and “you” to two or more people. The exception to that rule, however, was if a person were addressing a social superior: so, for example, if a common person is addressing a lord or a lady, it was unthinkable that that common person would “thee” or “thou” that social superior.
Friends had no use for those sorts of customary courtesies which they saw as elevating some people above others, and in the process very likely puffing up sinful human vanity. So when addressing a single person, they insisted—no matter what the social rank—that person be addressed as “thee” or “thou”, and that really, really, really annoyed the upper classes of 17th century England. They saw it as undermining the very foundations of the social order.
#3 – Refusal to Use Titles
The third aspect of Quaker speech or plain language was a refusal to use complimentary titles.
So good Friends would address all people by name, as “Thomas Hamm” or “William Penn” or “Margaret Fell”. Not as “Mr. Penn” or “Your Ladyship Margaret.”
Once again, that really, really annoyed the upper classes and if you wanted to get a Quaker into trouble, one surefire way you could do it was to haul the Quaker into court, on even the most spurious of charge, but because the Friend would refuse to address the judge as “your honor,” if nothing else you could get the Friend thrown into jail for contempt.