Simanaitis Says

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ENGLISH HAS CARELESSLY mislaid its intimate second person. The French language still maintains tutoyer, its intimate tu versus vous. German still differentiates among du, ihr and Sie. Yiddish carries these into דו, (du) and איר, (related to the German ihr).

The Japanese language has a multiplicity of second-person pronouns, differing in use depending on formality, gender, relative ages of speaker and subject, relative social class, regional dialect and other conventions. What’s more, there’s a linguistic circumlocution in which Japanese speakers avoid personal pronouns altogether. More than enough subtleties that I’ll save for another day.

Doest thou know what I mean?

Our use of “thou/thee/thy” has all but disappeared but for wedding vows, prayers and Biblical references. Merriam-Webster recognizes the linguistic kinship of “thou,” ”du,” “vous,” and “you.” But it calls “thou” archaic. English speakers encounter these other intimate second persons from time to time, in song and otherwise.


Bei Mir Bist Du Schön, the song title rendered into German. Below, a poster from the original Yiddish show.


In either its Yiddish original or German transliteration, it’s “To Me, Thou Art Beautiful,” an endearing sentiment and popular song from the late 1930s. This was the first hit for the Andrew Sisters and remained popular throughout World War II.

The French tu and its related te and toi have special use indicating familiarity. However, according to Merriam-Webster, it would be a breach of etiquette to address one’s elders in this way. They and less than intimate friends remain vous.

Englais (sort of French-fried English) has had interesting tussles with tutoyer, the 1935 song “Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup” being an example. It’s literally “I love you a lot,” however I’d hope no self-respecting lover would eschew tutoyer at that stage of the relationship. Je t’aime, “I love thee,” is a lot better French.


Nat King Cole popularized “Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup.”

The love song “Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup.” popularized by Nat King Cole, displays less than idiomatic French. On the other hand, its “Wish my French were good enough/I’d tell you so much more” presents a charming image of bilingual romance.

The 1974 “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle committed the same grammatical oversight in asking Voulez vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?, Will you sleep with me (tonight)? It would sound less French 101 were it sung “Veux tu coucher avec moi (ce soir)?”

However, this line doesn’t scan nearly as well, and it misses an interesting backstory. In 1920, novelist John Dos Passos had his characters in Three Soldiers say “Voulay vous couchay aveck moy?” and apparently sometimes this line worked just fine.


Labelle: Front left to right, Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash and Patti LaBelle. Image from Yakymour.

And, truth be known, I much prefer Patti LaBelle to the Académie Française. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

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