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Y’All

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Wholeheartedly approved:

How y’all doing?

A greeting as Southern as a bowl of grits, it rolls off the tongue in a single open-mouth utterance. Sweeter than honey and often saturated with hidden meaning, it can open up a dialogue with a roomful of strangers with ease.

Part of that ease hinges on the incredible versatility of the phrase’s most important word. “Y’all,” that strange regional and ethnic conjunction, offers a simplicity to speech that can’t be found elsewhere. It is a magnificently elegant linguistic creation.

There are no distinct second-person plural pronouns in modern standard English. “Ye” once served that purpose; a good look at the King James version of the Bible can give a sense of the usage. “Ye are the light of the world,” Jesus told a crowd in Galilee. But nowadays, “ye” and some other fun Middle English pronouns have fallen by the wayside, except at Medieval Times and in fantasy novels. Even “thou,” the etymological informal brother of “you,” fell off the linguistic map around the 17th century.*

Which—thanks to the abandonment of the formal/informal system of pronouns influenced by French—leaves us with one word: “you,” that pronoun-of-all-trades. “You” is all we English-speakers have to refer to any person or group or large crowd, regardless of status or size.

Which is why we need “y’all.” It doesn’t suffer from having the gender implications or general lameness of “you guys.” It sounds elegant, warm, and inviting. It offers both economy and an end to second-person ambiguity. Teach it in schools across the country. Mouth it to babies. Put it on end-of-grade tests. With respect to “youse,” “yinz,” and “you-uns,” its lesser-known cousins, “y’all” is the most widely practiced of the options and could be the easiest to implement.

The hypothesized origins of “y’all” speak to the necessity of adding a second-person plural. While it could just be a contraction of “you all,” some evidence shows that it could also originate from the Scots-Irish ye aw, a Creolization from African slaves, or a combination of the two. Given that the Appalachian Scots-Irish are also behind “youse,” “yinz,” and “you-uns” and given common African Creolizations such as allyuh, it may just be that these two groups were the most fed up with the erosion of the second-person plural.

But those origins may also have something to do with the stigmatization of “y’all.” Southern accents and Southern words are generally perceived by Yankee ears as making their speakers less intelligent, and that ain’t right. The regional bias also bleeds into a quasi-racial bias against AAVE, even during a time when we have a president who employs a cache of its words, including “y’all,” fairly liberally. This is the struggle I’ve long silently endured as a black Carolinian: code-switching my “y’all” to “you all” in speech and emails, mostly because “you guys” was a step too far in the direction of awful. Have I mentioned that “you guys” is really bad?

So let’s end that stigmatization and give “y’all” its rightful place in language proper. “Y’all hiring?” “Y’all ok?” The possibilities are endless, and a simple substitution could actually solve a real problem in modern English that will only grow as we continue to examine how gender works in language. It could provide a better and gender-neutral word. It could relieve “you” of the impossible task of ostensibly functioning in so many roles, and maybe even along the way ease some of the regional and racial stigmatization of language and slang. It’s worth a shot, y’all.

The South is simply correct here. This is a significant addition to the language. We should all embrace it.

Map from this link, which explains more on the issue.

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  • Eli Rabett

    Youse – NYC, esp Brooklyn

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Yiz – Philadelphia (quite common)
      In Pittsburgh, I’ve heard they say “yinz” hence “Yinzer.”

      • gmack

        Yinz is probably my favorite regionalism. However, I’m with Erik on this one, and I use y’all fairly regularly (I’m from Southern Ohio originally, and there was a lot of you all and even some “y’all” around when I was growing up, so it comes relatively naturally to me).

        • AlanInSF

          Maryland is definitely “you all” territory, if not actually “y’all.”If you don’t count Baltimore, which isn’t really Maryland, in the same way that Brooklyn isn’t New York State. I’ve been away from Maryland 40 years and I still say “you all.”

          • Judas Peckerwood

            I picked up y’all living in DC in the 80s and it’s stuck.

    • John Revolta

      In Chicago it’s somewhere between “yous” and “yez”……….”Yez wanna come wit’?”

      Also “Daboatayez”.

    • Thirtyish

      I like “youse.”

    • marduk

      Yous combines all the benefits of Y’all with none of the detriments. And it follows regular english pluralization rules to boot. If you simply must have a plural form of you (why?) then it has to be Yous.

    • JMP

      Youse is correct; but it’s from Philly, though of course NY would claim credit for it, as they do everything that Philly does. At yeah, it is far preferable to that hideous abomination of a non-word that is contracting “you all”, that is painful to hear or read. It gives me a giant headache, whenever I hear or see that awful terrible no-good fake word.

    • Emily68

      Youse is used a lot in South Jersey, too.

  • N__B

    We should all embrace it.

    Ya dead to me.

  • wengler

    Wrong. Just because English lost its familiar tense doesn’t mean we are doomed to use a term like y’all.

    • But it’s such a great term on its own merits!

      • N__B

        Only for people who think sloops are a mast short.

        • keta

          Good ketch, but technically only if the mizzen is stepped abaft the rudderpost.

          • mikeSchilling

            A thing, as the bellman remarked
            That frequently happens on topical blogs
            When a comment is, so to speak, snark.

          • Lee Rudolph

            Mizzen beats ma’amin’.

      • MaureenDowdsLudes

        Yes it is. As a lapsed Texan, living in Queens, I use y’all, all the time. I use “fuck all y’all” when I’m feeling salty.

      • Ramon A. Clef

        I love the word for everyday conversation and have been using it email and other online communication for a few years now. And I’m a damned Yankee living in the south.

        Every now and then, someone criticizes me for using it, and I get to play the “I have a Masters degree in English,” trump card. Those are the only times that degree has ever been useful.

  • The Lorax

    It’s better than “you guys” or “youse guys” or “all of youse.”

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      The Philadelphia “yiz” [ often spelled “youse” but pronounced /jəz/ so it almost rhymes with the last syllable in “bunches”] is quite charming.

    • Warren Terra

      [y’all is] better than “you guys” or “youse guys” or “all of youse.”

      You are correct, which doesn’t mean it needs any wider use. I haven’t heard “y’all” said unironically in a long, long time – but I haven’t heard “you guys” said in any manner in at least as long. This seems like a good state of affairs to me.

  • Moondog

    Occasionally I hear an emphatic variation: “y’all-all”

    as in “Y’ALL-all need to calm down!”

    • MaureenDowdsLudes

      And that is improper. It should go “all y’all need to calm down.”

      • John Revolta

        My (English) wife’s son came home from his first day in kindergarden and said “Mum, what does ‘y’all’ mean?”

        She asked him, “Y’all as in what?”

        He said “As in ‘Y’all quieten down!'”

        • John Revolta

          ETA: happened in Tennessee

      • Joe Bob the III

        Completely agree. A subject of great debate in my family is how many people are required to merit all y’all instead of y’all. My feeling is that it requires four or more.

        • skate

          I wonder that also, having heard my niece from South Carolina address a group family members as “all y’all”.

      • Darkrose

        I thought it was “alla y’all”.

  • Why not take English back & use thee & thou again?

    • N__B

      I agree with Brother Bouffant.

      • Added advantage of forcing your lessers to address you respectfully.

        • mikeSchilling

          Which is important when your landlord gets uppity.

        • John Revolta

          Do watch that, O my brother, if to continue to be on live thou dost wish!

  • I like it but I can understand why it wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste.

  • Moondog

    Y’all are the light of the world.

    I love it.

  • BlueLoom

    What’s the plural of y’all (forget the fact that it’s already supposedly plural)? Y’alls. What’s the possessive of y’all? Y’all’s (singular), y’alls’ plural. Srsly. I’ve heard them all–especially y’alls (plural).

    • N__B

      When I was a kid I sometimes wore coveryalls.

      • MaureenDowdsLudes

        Heh. Did they cover all y’all?

    • John Revolta

      I’ve never heard y’alls (plural)- all y’all does for that- but I’ve heard it as a possessive e.g. “Yall’s car is on far”.

  • Any explanation for R.I.’s simple, solitary “you”?

    • N__B

      The state is too small to fit excess syllables or punctuation.

    • Woodrowfan

      the politicians stole the “all” and sold it to the Mob???

    • Darkrose

      They had to sell it for cash after Curt Schilling’s company imploded?

  • Woodrowfan

    you also hear “you all” in south-western Ohio, which makes sense given the population movement between SW Ohio and KY

  • Emma in Sydney

    It would sound pretty odd if I tried it.

  • Atrios

    meh. I increasingly find the need to distinguish between “one” and “more than one” in almost all contexts to be unnecessary and needlessly complex linguistically.

  • rea

    Ustedes

    • Lee Rudolph

      Vos. (Don’t cry for me.)

      • Karen24

        Vosotros!

    • Now y’all thowin’ confusements at me.

  • Once again, Bristol County, MA follows the RI pattern instead of the rest of MA. We used the plural You by itself where I grew up.

  • AlexRobinson

    You write, “The South is simple correct here.”

    That the South is correct about something is difficult to accept.

    :-)

    • wjts

      Some of the food’s pretty good.

      • Origami Isopod

        And the music.

        • wca

          And public beach access.

  • And how pretentious are Kaintuck & West Virginny w/ their high-falutin’ “you alls”? Or are they just trying to say “Technically, we weren’t part of the Confederacy?

    • Woodrowfan

      I believed they both joined the Confederacy in late 1865, early 1866 or so.

      • postmodulator

        Like the Al Franken joke about immigration standards; you can’t become a US citizen if you were in the Nazi party before 1945. “I’d trust a guy who became a Nazi in 1946. That’s not a fair-weather friend.”

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    We should adopt “vous” from the French, but spell it “vou.” It’s simple, it’s short, it sounds somewhat like the word it’s replacing, but sounds different enough to be easily distinguished in most situations. I am not a crank.

    • Esperanto!

      P.S.: I am a crank.

      • N__B

        Why stop there? Latin!

        • Warren Terra

          Get with the kids, and pick between Valyrian and Dothraki!

          (Actually, I’m very mildly curious how many people speak Latin, versus how many speak Esperanto, or Elvish, or Klingon, or the above options)

          • N__B

            A few years ago I read a profile of a Jesuit who was teaching spoken Latin, mostly to non-clergy. He had a line something like “It can’t be that hard – little children in Rome spoke it.”

            • Noah S. McKinnon

              That would be Fr. Reginald Foster, a Discalced Carmelite, and the man who first taught me spoken Latin. The line was usually “every bum and prostitute in the streets of Rome spoke Latin, so why can’t you?”

              • N__B

                Don’t talk about it. When Trump’s elected, you might be deported to Latin America.

                • Noah S. McKinnon

                  Oh, I’m getting deported one way or another! I’m Latino on both sides.

  • keta

    I don’t know. Whenever I read or hear someone exclaim, “Hey! y’all need to see this!” I really, really don’t.

  • Frank Wilhoit

    There are at least seven forms of the second-person plural.

    1) You — Standard English; “you all” as two distinctly separate words is included in this
    2) Yous (soft ‘s’)
    3) Yous (hard ‘s’)
    4) Youses (double plural of #3)
    5) Y’uns (often pronounced “yinz”)
    6) Y’all
    7) Y’all’n (this one is often omitted, even from fairly ambitious classifications, but it occurs where I live; the final ‘n’ is quite distinct)

    Every time I write up this list, I remember #8 a short while afterwards, but I cannot think of it right this second.

    The first-person plural is almost as varied.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      1) Mouse
      2) Mice
      3) Meese
      4) Meeses

  • butcherpete

    I like “you” (pl.)

    I also like “they” (sing.)

    No need for “you guys”, “you all”, or “y’all.”

  • Tehanu

    The South is simply correct here. This is a significant addition to the language. We should all embrace it.

    You embrace it, Erik. Bless your heart. The rest of us will try to forget we ever heard anyone speaking with a Southern accent.

    • sparks

      You wouldn’t believe how ridiculous an affectation to hear that “accent” (in quotes because it was real as Hollywood) from CA people who never lived further east than Tahoe.

      • AlanInSF

        It’s not totally fake; there was a sort of cultural axis between Bakersfield and L.A., with rodeo stars and singing cowboys from the gulf-to-bakersfield circuit recruited for westerns, and they brought a lot of southernish accents with them. It’d be a worse affectation in Marin.

        • Darkrose

          A lot of transplanted Southerners–black and white–all over Sacramento and the Central Valley.

  • kerFuFFler

    While my dad was stationed in Germany in the 1950’s he said he heard some soldiers from the South trying to speak German. “Wo gehen Sie’all hin?”

    • N__B

      I occasionally hear “una bagel con shmear” in my deli.

      • Darkrose

        I love that, and I’m not being ironic. That’s fucking America.

      • Gregor Sansa

        Pedant alert: I think it’s “un bagel con schmir”.

        • N__B

          Que fuck?

  • Mike in DC

    In proper context, as in, e.g., “Fuck all y’all”, it is an invaluable addition to the language.

    • Yes. This.

    • Joe Bob the III

      Yes. And it requires pointing in a circular motion while you say it, with emphasis on the first all.

      • Ramon A. Clef

        And if you throw in a little side-to-side motion with your head while you’re making the circular gesture, they know you’re well and truly furious.

    • MikeJake

      But see “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck YOU…, you’re cool, fuck you, I’m out.”

      • N__B

        Also:

        “Fuck you.”

        “Fuck you!”

        “No, fuck you!

  • The fact that y’all feel this is a matter for debate strikes me as odd.

    We should all be wondering what the heck is up with the Yinz and Yewins users of Pennsylvania and enclaves in southern Indiana.

    • Srsly. I’ve never heard (noticed) this in real (or recorded) life, but I’ve heard of/read plenty about it.

      Dutch-German influence?

      • I’ve heard both, and … no idea.

        German/Dutch surnames are very common in Indiana, but I only heard yewins from a couple of people, both from the same area. Maybe its a shibboleth? “He said yewones, get him!!”

        • Ken

          From the map, y’all would make a great shibboleth for any (purely hypothetical) Second US Civil War.

    • kenjob

      it’s not dutch, none of that sort of talk makes it over the northern tier.

      yinz et al are remnants of the scots-irish diaspora pre- or post- appalachian settlement, i can never remember which.

  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    Y’know, I just say “you”. I could probably count on my fingers the number of times in my entire life (okay, maybe add a toe or two) that this wasn’t clear enough in context that it needed clarification. The lack of a distinct second-person plural in my dialect is just not a serious problem.

  • petemack

    Bless your heart.

  • kenjob

    as a youth i inserted “y’all” into my everyday speech because i was sick of people assuming i was from the city when i indicated i was from new york.

    by now it’s habit more than affectation. i suppose i’m not too old to change; if i find that my speech becomes drawlyer the longer i stay away from home i might excise it all together.

    i do appreciate the usefulness of “y’all” as a means of addressing the group or to confer the “royal we” to an individual as a show of respect. it’s a comfortable spot on the spectrum between the flat indiscriminate “you” — which seems disdainful — and the japanese suffix “-tachi” which turns any noun into an address suitable for group affiliations circumscribed by the noun.

    “you guys” is barely more specific and unnecessarily gendered.

  • Thirtyish

    Call me a coastal elitist snob all you like, but “ya’ll” sets my teeth on edge. I always, always say “you guys.” It’s a default–grew up saying it–but it also sounds a lot more sophisticated and less “folksy” than the abomination that is ya’ll.

    • Karen24

      Well bless your heart.

    • Thom

      It’s y’all, not ya’ll.

    • Captain Oblivious

      You’re being sarcastic, right?

      • Cassiodorus

        I won’t speak for him/her, but I know I have a similar point of view. Of course, that may come from originally coming from a small town in the south and feeling a great deal of shame/awkwardness about that fact.

  • Edogg

    So, thoughts on “ain’t”? I used to think it worked as a contraction of “am not,” but it’s also used for “isn’t” and “aren’t”.

    • Ramon A. Clef

      It was good enough for Jonathan Swift; it’s good enough for me.

    • AlanInSF

      Hain’t, pronounced the same but seldom spelled with the H, is used as a contraction for has not or have not — “Ain’t got no soul.” Song lyrics just wouldn’t be the same without it.

    • CJColucci

      I’ve long advocated “ain’t” as the contracted form of “am not.” “Aren’t I” or “amn’t I” are at best awkward. “Ain’t I” makes perfect sense.

  • Chet Manly

    Just wanted to chime in that aside from the linguistic usefulness, it’s also a great help getting cooperation out of folks. I’m a DoD employee originally from Nebraska and I’ve consciously adopted “y’all” for that reason.

    A core part of my job is constantly making unpleasant “why is it broken”, “what’s the damn hold up”, “I don’t care, wake him up now” kind of phone calls. I’ve found people are much, much less defensive or upset by forcefulness when you’re saying “y’all” instead of “you”.

    • CSI

      So you use “y’all” as a singular pronoun? This is the impression I get too – that in parts of the South people won’t use “you” at all, even when only talking to one person, as “you” sounds too cold, impersonal and overly formal compared to “y’all”.

  • Fuck the South.

    • Thirtyish

      Pretty much.

    • tsam

      And the deep fried horse it ride in on.

  • AB

    You will find the likes of Virginia Woolf writing “he don’t” for “he doesn’t.”

  • CHD

    The plain RI you is definitely a thing, but sometimes it gets enveloped in the rest of the sentence. For example, one proper response if you’re asked “D’jeet yet?” is “no, I’m not hungry”.
    There are a remarkable number of fairly significant regional accent variations for such a small state. A linguist once easily identified which specific little neighborhood of Pawtucket my uncle grew up in.

  • galanx

    We used it occasionally in Canada to refer to Americans: “How was your camping trip?” “Not bad, but the campsite was full of You-alls”

    • N__B

      The Italians used to say the same thing abut the SS United States: “Is that a U-boat?” “No, that’s a y’all boat.”

      • Barry Freed

        I think that was just Chico Marx.

        My people used to say “youse guys.”

    • Joe Bob the III

      I have heard Albertans use ‘y’all’ with no self-consciousness at all. Apparently, that is supposed to be okay because Alberta is the Texas of Canada.

  • alex284

    Which is why we need “y’all.” It doesn’t suffer from having the gender implications or general lameness of “you guys.” It sounds elegant, warm, and inviting. It offers both economy and an end to second-person ambiguity. Teach it in schools across the country. Mouth it to babies. Put it on end-of-grade tests. With respect to “youse,” “yinz,” and “you-uns,” its lesser-known cousins, “y’all” is the most widely practiced of the options and could be the easiest to implement.

    LOL. Just what we need – another word like “whom”. That is, a word that is not naturally used in conversational English, that some of us learned about and were tested on but never integrated naturally into our language, and that many people feel insecure about so they put it in all the wrong places.

    Of course, not surprising that a professor would imagine that language would change that way – testing and teachers telling people how to talk – but I’m of the opinion that if language needs to change, it will do so naturally, from the bottom-up. “You guys” seems to be doing just fine, and not because of stereotypes of southerners, but because (if the linked article is correct) there is less African and Creole influence in northerners’ English for historical reasons.

    But, whatever, try to go about changing the way the unwashed masses talk! It’s been tried before (eg “don’t end a sentence with a preposition because Latin doesn’t allow that, you uneducated ruffians!”) with terrible results, but maybe this time it’ll be different.

    • Gregor Sansa

      My daughter is 11, bilingual in Spanish and English, and we live in the US. I’m a language pedant but she resists me fiercely on adjectives-as-adverbs and on “as if”. She even does “and I” wrong sometimes. But I’ve heard her use “whom” entirely unself-consciously. In other words, there’s hope for pedantry.

  • Gregor Sansa

    Y’all who oppose this are just plain wrong. There’s really no point even discussing it. Y’all’re even wronger than the Spaniards with their snooty “vosotros” crap.

  • pianomover

    The redneck voice is all over the country.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JPuS1XoRoJs

    Arizona says y’all

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  • The word y’all was spoken in Southern and Western England about 400 years ago, apparently. It can be found in old English writing and letters of the time (along with words like “gwyne,” which was used just like Mark Twain used it), and was brought over to America by the 2nd sons of the planter class. The Southern highlanders/hillbillies/rednecks picked it up from them, as did the slaves, who learned English from them.

    It died out in England a long time ago, because of the dominance of other parts of the country, supposedly.

    I think of it as being like Italian-American accents that pronounce words “gabagool” for “capicola.” That accent used to be dominant in Southern Italy but now only exist where those Italians emigrated to, since Milan’s accent pushed it out early in the 20th century.

    And I LOVE this shit.

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