Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Is Y'all a Word? Find Out What the Dictionary Says

Y'all is one of the best words in the English language. And the dictionary will back me up.

Sure, a lot of people see y'all as hopelessly hillbilly. In the purist's mind, if a word could wear gingham, spit tobacco, marry its cousin at age 14, or have a few teeth missing, that word would be y'all. In recent years, y'all has also been usurped by the gangsta culture. Do a Twitter search on y'all and you'll see what I mean.

I love y'all because it's inclusive as well as precise. Let's look at an example from everyday life. When you're talking to more than one person at a time, would you ask, "Would you like some crinkle-cut french fries?" You might pose this pivotal question in such a way if you were trying to be proper. But then you'd have to make eye contact with everyone, to make sure each person understood that crinkle-cut fries were in their future. (Everyone should have crinkle-cut fries in their future.) If you said, "Would y'all like some crinkle-cut french fries?," then everyone would know they're included and you wouldn't have to make all that eye contact.

I'm not alone in my defense of y'all. The word  actually fills a linguistic void created when thou and ye fell out of favor. Here's what The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language Fourth Edition (page 1997 of the hardcover edition) says about you-all, of which y'all is a contraction:

"You and you-all preserve the singular/plural distinction that English used to have in thou and ye, the subject forms of singular and plural you, respectively (thee and you were the singular and plural object forms). The distinction between singular thou/thee and plural ye/you began to blur as early as the 13th century, when the plural form was often used for the singular in formal contexts or to indicate politeness, much as the French use tu for singular and familiar "you," and vous for both plural and plite singular 'you.'"

The dictionary goes on to say that "the distinction between singular and plural you is just as useful as that between other singular and plural pronoun forms, such as I and we."

Let me recap: Though its usage is "chiefly Southern U.S.," as the dictionary states, you-all and y'all serve important functions in our language. So now y'all bitches can stop hatin' on the word y'all.

Sorry about that; I just had a gangsta moment.

Of course, some people take y'all to the extreme. Years ago, when Nick and I lived in Atlanta, he invited a friend from work over for dinner. The friend, who I believe was from Alabama, asked, "What time should I come over to y'all's house?" In that instance, I'm pretty sure your house would have been sufficiently inclusive. Then there are those who have forgotten the purpose y'all serves, and who, as a result, say things like "I love all y'all so much!" (Usually a sentence like this is spoken after too much bourbon and branch water.)

And there you have it. You should say y'all with pride. It's inclusive, it's precise (well, sort of), it's charming, and it's one of the few things left in our increasingly homogenized culture that is "chiefly Southern U.S." At a minimum, don't you think y'all sounds much nicer than you-uns or youse guys? And while we're on the subject, is there some interesting regional slang you use or hear frequently? I want to hear from all y'all!

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9 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, I have developed a mixture of British slang (and a slight accent to accompany it), No. Cal. hippie-speak, and So. Cal. valley girl.

    I agree with you; y'all is a wonderful word. We'all should use it more.

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  2. I truly love how engaging and welcoming y'all is. And, "all y'all" is my absolute fave.

    My mother once gave me a Christmas ornament of a boot,and on it were the words, "Deck them halls y'all!"

    Classic.

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  3. Jim,

    Actually hillbillies don't say "ya'all". My dad was a hillbilly (from the hills of western North Carolina, Pigeon Roost). Their version was "yo'uns". Means the same thing. "Hillbilly" is actually from Appalachia which really isn't the South.

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    1. Thanks for setting me straight, Ron! I should have also looked up 'hillbilly' in the dictionary.

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  4. I love hearing people say y'all and many ask me when I will start using it. Somehow asking folks y'all want a cup a caughy just doesn't work! I don't use youz guyz but I do say you guys guite a bit...at least I don't think this Long Island girl says youz guyz.

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  5. I wonder what will happen when all the defense lawyers and District attorneys start to use Y'all in court! It must be pretty exciting.

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  6. Dude,

    Why, bless your heart!

    ;-)

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  7. What an awesome piece! Just today some guy made a negative comment to my comment where I used the word "y'all". He actually told me to represent America by showing some respect because "y'all" is not a word. Thanks this article and God bless y'all! :)

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