Friends,

I'd like to hear your thoughts about plain speech, if you would be willing to write in about it. It has been on my mind quite a bit lately, and I think I am being asked to learn more about it and work to practice it. From reading a little of early Friends' writings and about them, I gather that originally there were several elements to it. One was to follow Jesus's command not to swear oaths, but rather to make everything that comes out of one's mouth conform to the truth: to speak with perfect honesty and to keep any promises one made. Another aspect was to give up using pronouns and other forms of speech which exalted some and demeaned others on the basis of class (which led to Friends' use of "thee," of course.) But it appears to have developed into a much larger practice, something that had an effect on every aspect of life and was highly distinctive of Quakers. I would like to learn more about what it was and how these practices developed if anyone feels led to write in about that or suggest good reading about it.

I'd also like to know how anyone who practices plain speech today thinks of it. When I first began attending my meeting, I noticed that a few elders there responded to conversation with me by appearing to think carefully before they spoke. This practice was so alien to me that I felt intimidated by it. I had the impression that they thought I was such a trial to talk to, they had to work hard at it. (Maybe they did!) I realized recently that I've come far enough now that I appreciate the practice of taking care over one's speech and would like to do more of it myself.

Thank you for your help,
Rosemary

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Dear Simon,

Thank you. You have given me much to think and pray about.
Rosemary

Dear Rosemary, 

 

The best example of Plain Speech I have ever encountered was in the life of a beloved friend who recently passed of Putney Meeting, NEYM.  

 

Hattie had the gift of making the person in front of her feel, always, as if they were the most wonderful person in the world to her, just the person she wanted to see to make her day better.  She was the face of love for me and for many others.  I learned at her memorial service that she had made a discipline of never saying hurtful things about others- ever.  Almost every time I saw her she would say, "Sarah! How is thee?"  I would say, "Very well Hattie, and you?" whereupon she would reply, "All the better for having seen thee."

 

She used thee with everyone she encountered, not just Friends, which I also did not know until her memorial service.  There, a clerk from the town bookshop said it best.  "When you were with Hattie, you weren't you any more.  You were thee." 

I have rarely felt so loved as when I was thee to Hattie.  

 

And that is a fine, fine usage of Plain speech.

 

-S. Rosemary

That's beautiful. Thank you.
I'm late, but thank you, Stephanie.

I wonder what modern implementations of Plain Speech others are called to.  In the days since Hattie's memorial, I have tried (and consistently failed) to give up saying cruel things about others.  I am going to keep trying.  

I have tried for a long time, and failed, to stop taking the Lord's name in vain (No, "God, that hurt!" or what have you).  I am slowly, slowly, improving, but I still fail.  

I also am trying to stop using the word 'love' inappropriately, reserving it for people, other living things, and concepts.  I can love my husband, God,  justice, and the environment  but I can only like (very, very, much) chocolate, Pride and Prejudice, Scrabbleand merino wool.  There is a certain grey area when it comes to things such as my pet cat and playing my violin, but I'm trying to sort it.  Slowly.  I do find that giving up 'love' has helped my language become more precise.  

I appreciated what Stephanie said about hyperbole and sarcasm.  Hyperbole seems like more of a priority for me.  I might try to deal with both in time.  

Thanks so much for all the great info, Karen.

 

In response to your question at the end, I believe that a big part of the reformation included a drive to purify the church of pre-Christian elements and the worship of images and anything that was not really God. So Puritans destroyed many of the statues and stained glass windows of cathedrals as well as renaming things that they knew had pre-Christian origins and getting rid of saints who were worshiped as if they were God. The earlier church was more inclusive about these various elements and influences. As Christianity spread throughout Europe in the early middle ages, the church had a very politic way of not minding when local elements were brought in.

 

I don't write this to be critical of either side. I just find the history fascinating.

 

Rosemary

Yes, I really appreciated Stephanie's point as well. And I think simplicity of tone when speaking is every bit as important as simplicity in the words themselves. One can imply a great deal of mockery of others even when one's words are apparently true and would appear innocent if you wrote them down. I've even seen Friends grimace or roll their eyes when speaking of a difficult person. That seems equally "unplain" if I may use that term.

 

Rosemary

Dear Brethren & Sisters,

Plainness is the outward manifestation of the indwelling Light in thy speech, appearance, conduct, and approbations. Indwelling, not as though the Light is actually “in” thee, but indwelling as it relates to the Light being that which pervades and envelopes everybody and everything that thee could ever possibly comprehend and beyond even that. To the degree that thee has surrendered thy “self” to the Light, will determine the degree of plainness in thy life. Plainness is Grace.

Humans are endowed with two inclinations. The inclination to seek the immutable Light that transcends all things and the other is the shadow inclination, that is also subject to the Light but is inattentive to its' Presence . To the level the shadow “self” inclines towards the Light, the individual experiences Wisdom. The self perceives itself to be the definitive authority of its' own understanding. It is vainglorious and unsettled, always running after something and ever discontent. If thee stands squarely in the Light, thee will be inclined to be centered, unassuming in thy demeanor and long-suffering in thy dealings with thy fellow man. Since the Light is immutable, Its' indwelling is immutable also. There is no “new” plain or old plain. There isn't one plainness for “conservative Friends” and another for “evangelical Friends”. There isn't one kind for the Ohio Yearly Meeting and another kind for the Iowa Yearly Meeting. There is just that which abides and that which is predisposed to dispute, condemn, condone, or obfuscate what abides. The shadow self couches its' arguments in terms like individualism, self expression, and freedom as though the Light somehow unfairly impedes the individual's quest for happiness and peace. That which abides in Truth seeks moderation in all things, modesty in appearance, and forbearance in conduct. Stability, simplicity and tolerance is the precursor to happiness and peace. Friends of like mind are accustomed to the gift of simplicity and shall bear witness to that which has Truth as it's source and provender. Plainness is not about agitating thyself over black or gray, zippers instead of buttons or hooks & eyes. The wearing of broadfalls and bonnets does not make thee plain. A child of Light must recognize the plain within, suppressing or even sublimating thy ego-self, will not work.

Plainness in speech is just as important as thy outward appearance. The world condemns the use of thee and thou and thine as an affectation or nuisance. Think. What speech causes more provocation or angst? “You better get over here, right now!” Or, “Thee ought to get over here, right now.” Kindness in speech, gentleness in tone, reflects a calm mindedness and a willingness to solve disagreements. Thee maybe dressed plain but nothing gives the provocateur away more than speech.

For the frustrated and anxious, wait patiently in silence. Everything, everyone is just the outward manifestation of the Supernal Source, we call God. The flower blossoms and gives off it's scent, whether there is someone there to enjoy it's fragrance, or not. The sun shines on both the good and the bad. The indwelling Light, that is Living Truth, is like the scent of the flower and like the light of the sun. When the shadowy ego-self, relinquishes itself to the Light, then what is simple, what is plain, in though word and deed, will be already found within thee as it has been there for all time. Thee is not here to save the world, not even to change it. It is given to thee to realize only the Oneness which is thy Self and to lend thyself to others. Abide in this, abide in that Wisdom and all will be opened to thee. -

Amicus

Hello, Rosemary.

I am actually Eastern Orthodox who has adopted some aspects of Plain Speech.  I have discovered that some forebears were Quakers and, in the tradition of my church, honor those who came before me by speaking as they (most likely) did.  
For me, "theeing and thying" are not part of my speech because of avoidance of rank issues or politeness vs. familiarity, but rather one of truthfulness.  As a linguist, I understand the origins of the pronoun "you" and just cannot bring myself to use it to one person. Quirky/weird?  Sure.  Over-scrupulous?  Maybe but this my leading. 
 I also don't see a problem with "thee" as subject (as others may) because the same thing happened to the plural forms some time after they became used as singulars:  "You" is (in form) the object (as is "thee") and "ye" is the subject ("thou").  I chuckle to myself when people choose to "correct" my "bad grammar" and then proceed to call me "you" as subject.
I also avoid honorifics, but again, not because of rank, but mainly because of being consistent which flows from truthfulness.  I don't  use "Mister", "Sir", and "Ma'am" since they are but variations of "master" "Seigneur" ("Lord") and "ma Dame" ("my Lady"), which are titles for God, and the Lord's mother.  I figure since I'm avoiding those honorifics, I should, out of consistency, avoid them all.  Instead, I use job titles ("Professor", "Doctor" among others ) or else first and last name for people I don't know.  
All of this helps me tame my tongue.  I used to drop the f-bomb quite a lot, earlier in my life, and now, doing so while using Plain Speech, is just so jarring that it has precluded my use of course language for many years now.  

To make a long story short (I know: too late! haha) Plain Speech is a help to my spiritual life.  That others can't (or more usually, refuse to) accept this and "allow me to be led as I feel led" is an issue for them to deal with.  

Thank thee for sharing this wonderful method for contemplating adoption of any plain or simple practice!

I myself am trying to use thee and thou amongst Quakers when I can remember, but in the world I use you as the grammar rules have changed since the days of early Quakers.

In the world, I do not use good, as in good-morning or have a good day. I say morning, hello, hi, evening, bye, byebye or enjoy your day or have a nice day. Good does imply godliness and I prefer to use caution in lieu of throwing around the word. 

Martin Kelley said:

One of the more helpful resources for this is Thomas Clarkson, the Anglican who described Friends customs circa 1800. I talked about this in Sorting Quaker Peculiarities in the Modern World. When I look at old customs I ask two questions:

  • The Elevator rule: could I explain to my peculiarity to a non-Quaker “average Joe” in under two minutes?
  • The Christian rule: could I make the argument that this practice is not just a Quaker oddity but something that every faithful and earnest Christian should consider adopting?

Following these queries, I'm not led to thee/thy, which was important in the days of early Friends but needs lessons in the evolution of grammer to explain today (I often slip into it among plain Friends, but this is more just a sign of love).

The names of the days and months are different. They're still representing false deities and it only takes a moment to run down the "gods" they're referring to in explanation. Every Christian is charged with loving just one God so it's a change of habit I can recommend to any of our brethren. Plainness as witness is not meant to be effective in a social change sense, but to remind us and others of the different Lord we follow and the seriousness of His call to obedience and change. Peculiarity is okay as long as we can explain and recommend it.

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