Hallowed Be Thy Name, Buddy

I’m currently listening to one of the Great Courses¬†on the history of the English language and learned something that I found very, very interesting.

I grew up going to church and despite not having been to church in over 10 years, the words of the Lord’s Prayer are still taking up their own little space in my brain. You know, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”

I’ve always understood those “thy”s to be formal pronouns — in fact I distinctly remember being told that they should always be capitalized because they’re referring to God (which is always capitalized as well, of course.) But apparently I’ve had this wrong for years and years.

In Old English, and into Middle English as late as Shakespearian English, there was still a holdover from Anglo-Saxon of 2nd person informal and formal pronouns (like “tu” and “vous” in French, or “tu” and “usted” in Spanish.) Not terribly surprising, but what I did find surprising is that in fact “thy” and “thou” are the informal pronouns. So the King James Bible deliberately used this form (which was just passing out of general usage at the time it was written) in order to remind us that we have a very personal relationship with God, in which we can speak to him as if he was family.

Blew my mind, let me tell you. Possibly if I had thought about things that way, I might actually still be going to church…