I Ain’t Mad at Y’all But Just Stop It


From Wikicommons, the original Mason-Dixon Line. It separated those who sound fine saying “y’all” from the northern land of “you.” Pronoun disagreement is one of the forgotten roots of the Civil War.

Logic has little to do with English. There are two contractions that are both considered rude and ignorant but both persist because they have little niches (note: In Iowa, niches rhymes with witches, so y’all British folk ain’t welcome with your “neeshes”) in the language.

Specifically, despite most nominative pronouns having well-known and acceptable contractions for forms of “to be,” and negative forms of to be—as in it’s OK if he isn’t going to spell out “is” with it or not with he is, there is no “am not” contraction. Y’all aren’t happy with “ain’t,” but I a’n’t sure why.

And y’all fills the ustedes or tus gap in English. Y’all understand? In Spanish and other Romance languages, there is a second person plural, which makes perfect sense for clarity. But, except for the New York “yous” as in “yous guys better pay up or Guido will break y’all’s knees,” y’all is about the only second person option we in English have. And most of us don’t have it.

So I a’n’t sure why ain’t and y’all are both verboten. Except they are. English is organic, it’s not rational.

So why am I bothering y’all with this? (By the way, if you think it’s “ya’ll,” don’t go there there—the apostrophe replaces a missing letter or letters, and there’s nothing missing between the a and ls in “all.” Of course, you might ask just what the ai in ain’t stands for, but I ain’t sure.)

I was at a Cedar Rapids restaurant the other day, dining with my sweetie and something happened that startled me, y’all.

The waitress, in an accent that sounded vaguely southern Wisconsin, kept addressing Audrey and I (yes, my wife is my sweetie) as “y’all.” “Is everything tasting OK, y’all?” Well, sure it was. I ain’t dumb. I’d holler if it wasn’t right.

But, serviceable and sensible as y’all sounds in, say, a Texas or Alabama accent, it ain’t so fine in the drawn flat vowels of the upper Midwest. It seems like someone is trying to be too twee in using such a term in accents that are way far north of Mason-Dixon. We’re uptight, cold people here. We stick with “you” and leave the listener figure out what we mean, because That’s The Way It’s Supposed To Be.

And I ain’t putting up with no arguments from y’all.


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