5 Ways You Didn't Realize the English Language Is Defective

#2. We Suck at Politely Addressing People

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Modern English is about as egalitarian as a language can get without discarding words altogether and just communicating by hugs. We think nothing of using the same words to talk to our friends, our bosses, people we hate, and the president. It's convenient, but it also causes problems, especially for those among us racked by social anxiety. Without different sets of words to reflect how close we feel to others or how much we respect them, English-speakers must resort to making faces at people and occasionally pepper-spraying them if they don't get the point.

It's what I like to call my "debate kit."

How Other Languages Solve It:

Other European languages spank English's ass in this category. Almost all of them have something called the T-V distinction, which means that there are two different ways of saying "you." In most languages, the one that starts with "T" is used to address a close friend or a person you don't respect very much -- it's more casual, the way you call your best friend a bitch, but not a judge. The other usually starts with "V," and it's used in formal or polite situations, like when you're talking to your boss or your friend's parents or criminal gangs that you owe a lot of money to. Other languages take this way further: Japanese has about a dozen words for "you", ranging from a "you" that means "I hate you" to a "you" that can mean "we are intimate friends and possibly married." In fact, in Japanese you can express your hatred just by yelling the right form of "YOU!" at someone, something that is sorely lacking in our culture and which must confuse English-speaking anime fans to no end.

Via Wiktionary.org
This is the version that Hulk Hogan uses when he points at a guy who just gave him a chair shot to the back.

English once had its own form of the T-V distinction: "You" was the formal/polite version, while the friendly, familiar version was "thou." Unfortunately, "thou" disappeared from our speech, and today most of us associate it with people making Bible-based jokes on Twitter.

But hey, that doesn't mean that this old-timey pronoun has to stay gone. The next time you want to let someone know that you want to be close friends, you can call them "thou," and then explain that it's a pretty obscure pronoun and that they've probably never heard of it.

Unfortunately, that's not the only problem with English when it comes to addressing another person. There's also the fact that ...

#1. We're Lacking a Plural for "You"

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In English, the word "you" can refer to one person, two people, or every person outside your house with torches, demanding that you cease all witchcraft. Our regional dialects have tried to solve this problem by inventing plurals like "y'all," "youse," or "you guys," but none of these are considered part of "standard" modern English. In Standard English, we're forced to ask a single person, "Will you come to my 'getting out of prison' party?" and just hope that everyone in the visiting area doesn't think they're invited as well.

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Which is always a pain because who has enough ramen noodles to feed them all?

How Other Languages Solve It:

Some languages simply use their formal version of "you" to indicate a plural. For example, in French, you say "tu" (informal) when you're talking to one of your friends, but use "vous" (formal) when you're talking to a bunch of them. Others have entirely separate words: "vosotros/vosatras" in Castilian Spanish and "ihr" in German both essentially mean "y'all," except without any of the attached stereotypes that make Southerners start loading their muskets.

The fact that English is lacking a word like this can actually lead to translation problems: It's impossible to translate a lot of the New Testament accurately into modern English, for instance, because its original language, Koine Greek, used different words for plural and singular "you." So a Greek-speaking person reading the Bible will understand whether a bit of text is addressing a single person or a crowd, but there's no way to make this clear in standard English.

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"About that no-murder thing. Did you mean all of us -- or just Chad?"

As a quick fix, I propose that the plural of "you" remain just that. And the singular will henceforth be "Betty." Problem solved. You're welcome, English.

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