QUESTION: Why doesn’t the lookout say “Thar she blows” instead of “There she blows”? Why do they say it, anyway?
ANSWER: Whales are mammals, like humans, and need to breathe air. They come up to take a breath before they dive again. When they first surface, whales blow out their leftover air before taking a big fresh breath. This leftover air creates a steamy spout. “Thar she blows” means that the lookout has spotted a whalespout. “Thar” is simply a way of pronouncing “There.”
Q: What about “thee” versus “you”?
A: English used to use different words for “you.” These words would show whether people had an informal or formal relationship, and how many people were being spoken about. Informal was “thee/thou/ye” and formal was “you.” Many languages have this feature, such as Spanish “usted/ustedes” (formal) and “tu/vosotros” (informal). English began to use “you” for all situations around the 1600s, and Moby Dick was written at a time when “you” was used in all cases. However, many of the whaling ships were owned or captained by Quakers, who continued to use the old forms of address. If you read Moby Dick, you’ll find Quaker characters like Ahab use the old form, while most other characters use “you.”
Thee/thou/ye are commonly used in translations of the Bible, and of course, in Shakespeare and other old writings. Ironically, now we think of thee/thou as being more formal terms of address, when originally they were informal.
Q: What is the one word in Mighty Moby that is NOT from Moby Dick?
A: You’ll have to figure that out.
Q: Have you ever seen a whale?
A: Ed says,”Once upon a time, a whale was said to have come up the Hudson River.”
Barbara says, “No. There are lots of big lakes in Minnesota that have big fish–which can lead to tall tales, but no whales.”