„Thou must returneth whence thou came”

Did you know there is a secret eleventh commandment in the Bible? It read as follows: „thee shalt not speaketh in fake elizabethan„.

People are very often unaware of how languages evolved and changed throughout the ages and English is not an exception. Both native speakers and foreigners are oblivious to the historical background of English, leading to some misunderstandings and misconceptions. A good example of such misconception is fake elizabethan as I call it, i.e. when people attempt to make their speech look and sound old-fashioned, archaic by adding -th ending to all verbs in all situations (even worse, to nouns or adjectives as well).
English used during the Elizabethan period, when Shakespeare wrote and published his plays, was a little different from the English we use today, both in terms of vocabulary and grammar. The Early Modern English (EModE) had a slightly more diverse verb inflection, as the 2nd and 3rd person singular had their own separate verb endings for present tense. I sing, thou (back then you was reserved only for the 2nd person plural) singest and he/she/it singeth. But because learning those few forms is so difficult, the English we speak today got rid of thou and its separate verb ending. And yet, some contemporary English speakers fell in love with those fancy words like thine and thee and those crazy endings and use them (incorrectly) from time to time.

Now, before we’ll see some examples of how people misunderstand EModE, here’s a little warning. There will be minor Dark Souls spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t finished the game you might want to read the entry later. I’ll be discussing an optional area and an optional boss, but still. Be warned!

If you played Dark Souls, you might be familiar with Priscilla, the optional boss living in the Painted World of Ariamis. You can find her at the end of the location, in a destroyed building. When you enter through the fog gate, you can either attack her, leave the area by jumping down into the abyss, or talk to her. If you choose the last option, she says the following:

Who art thou?
One of us, thou art not.
If thou hast misstepped into this world,
plunge down from the plank, and hurry home.
If thou seekest I,
thine desires shall be requited not.

The forms used here are correct: thou art means simply you are, thou hast means you have, thou seekest means you seek. There is also thine, which means yours but it was generally used in front of the words that begin with a vowel, so thy would be a better choice here. Another thing that needs fixing is „If thou seekest I” which incorrectly uses the subjective case (I, he, she) instead of objective case (me, him, her). But generally, I’d say it looks kinda ok. As you can see, the syntax is different as well, e.g. negating the main verb instead of using do. I won’t talk much about it because you see it yourselves. I’d just like to comment here briefly on how languages evolve and how it is important to check your sources. As you have probably noticed, Early Modern English is different enough from the English spoken nowadays, therefore we need to understand its grammar and structure before we attempt to use it. Here, the writer(s) probably thought that saying If thou seekest I would sound more old-fashioned. On one hand, the intentions are understandable and we might as well ignore the faithfulness and credibility of the speech and accept it as it is; but wouldn’t be that disservice to the language with such a history? Just food for thought.

But coming back to the main topic. After having talked with Priscilla, you can talk to her again and she says the following:

Thou must returneth whence thou came.
This land is peaceful, its inhabitants kind, but thou dost not belong.
I beg of thee, plunge down from the plank, and hurry home.

There are more problems with this part, especially with the first sentence which is plain wrong. There are few things wrong with it, the first one being the wrong verb form. As I said earlier, -(e)th ending was used only with the 3rd person singular, so it should be „Thou must returnest„, right? Well, not really, because we have a modal verb must which requires a bare infinitive. We don’t say something like „He must returns before 10 o’clock”, do we? The language has not changed in that matter. Whence means from where, so it is used correctly, no problems with that. But then, we have thou came which needs some improvements, because we still need that -(e)st ending for the 2nd person singular in the past tense. So the correct sentence would be:

Thou must return whence thou camest.

You see, it’s not that difficult! If you care how you write, that is. If you want another example of bad EModE, here’s a short article about Super Paper Mario, where the translator didn’t do his research properly. You can read about it HERE.

To sum up, adding random -est or -eth endings to words is plain wrong, because it completely disregards the rules and the history of EModE. With a little effort you can make your speech look and sound good and I hope this entry will help you with that. If you want to read more about the EModE, check out the additional sources that you’ll find at the bottom of the page.

Additional sources









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