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What is the meaning of "thou thee" from the quotation below from this post. (Attributed to the attorney-general at Sir Walter Raleigh’s trial.)

"All that he did was at thy instigation, thou viper; for I thou thee, thou traitor."

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    The source to which you link also has a complete explanation. Put the quotation in a Google search box to find it. quora.com/For-I-thou-thee-thou-traitor-what-does-this-mean – Xanne Mar 30 '18 at 2:27
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    @Xanne It is a different page of the same domain, but yes it does, thanks. – Damien Golding Mar 30 '18 at 2:35
  • The answer given--that thou is being used as a verb--is right on. And we may move right on, whether this is closed or not. – Xanne Mar 30 '18 at 7:39
  • @Fattie - Because the OP didn't read the reference he used. – Hot Licks Mar 30 '18 at 23:05
  • @Fattie - If you think it's bad here you should see Skeptics. – Hot Licks Mar 31 '18 at 0:15
40

In "I thou thee", "thou" is a verb. The relevant definition in the OED is:

trans. To address (a person) with the pronoun thou (or its equivalent in another language).

(The quote in your question is one of the examples listed for this sense, in fact.)

It's really the same pattern as "Don't 'honey' me!" which you may have actually heard in real life.

To understand the reason this was an insult, one must be aware that "thou" at this time was a familiar pronoun of the second person singular while "you", the plural, had come to be used in the singular for people owed a certain measure of respect. (Compare French "tu" and "vous", if you're familiar with French.) Therefore, to "thou" someone whose relationship to the speaker would ordinarily call for the use of "you" was a show of grave disrespect.

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    For more background, see T-V distinction. – Mark Mar 30 '18 at 20:48
  • @Mark - all these years, I had no idea of the term for that. Thanks! T–V distinction. – Fattie Mar 30 '18 at 23:09
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    A brief note: "thou" was not just used for close/intimate/familiar acquaintances, it was also used for someone in a subordinate position (e.g. a servant, a lower class of noble, etc). It's literally a way of saying "you are beneath me/inferior to me". – Chronocidal Mar 31 '18 at 1:24
6

The comparison with French has been made:

Tu es une vipère. En effet je te tutoie, tu es un traître!

But you may also compare with German:

Du Schlange! Ich duze dich, du Verräter!

The cool thing with French and German is that you can explicitly see that they actually have a verb for saying "tu" or "du" ("thou"): "tutoyer" and "duzen".

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    Use citations in answers, if you please. And OP seeks meaning in English. – lbf Mar 30 '18 at 14:38
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    @lbf - I think this is a useful answer here -- the French and German phrases are translations of the sentence which involves a concept that is not readily expressible in modern English but which is still commonplace in those languages, so for anyone who is familiar with either of them it is probably the best way of understanding it. – Jules Mar 30 '18 at 15:53
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    The French sentence should read je te tutoie, not je vous tutoie. – jlliagre Mar 30 '18 at 23:02
  • @jlliagre +1 And similarly the German should be "Ich sage dir du...". – Andreas Blass Mar 31 '18 at 2:31
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    I think German also has a verb, "duzen", for "saying 'du' to"; so the example could be "Ich duze dich ...". – Andreas Blass Mar 31 '18 at 2:34

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