Wordsmith Returns with Bryan Garner (Usage Tip First Pub’d Aug. 20, 2014)

Wordsmithing returns with Bryan Garner (his usage tip orig. pub’d August 20, 2014) . . . .

Today’s case: “You All,” “Y’All” and “You Guys”:

A humourous use of the contraction “y’all” occurred to someone in my faith community, in western Canada, several years ago. Over a cup of coffee, she recalled the “culture shock” of attending a conference in the U.S. South and being greeted (shortly after she arrived and after entering a local shop alone) with “Hi Y’all! How are y’all doing today?” This friend (whose was born, raised and educated in Scotland) instinctively looked beside and behind her, to see who else was being addressed! And of course, it was only her.

Etymologist Bryan Garner writes that many residents of the American South and Southwest, “even highly educated ones, use the uncontracted ‘you all’ as the plural form of ‘you.’”

He writes that the usage has developed out of convenience, since the pronoun “‘you’ alone can be either singular or plural — and therefore is sometimes ambiguous.”

He adds, however that “you all” is “less susceptible to raised eyebrows than ‘y’all,’” (which my Scottish friend received) which is often thought to signal the speaker’s lower class origins (e.g. recall the language of the old television program, “The Beverly Hillbillies.”  I’ll look for it soon in our own “Corner Gas” movie, soon to be in theatres.)

Garner notes a further trend that there is “a noticeable tendency in [Southern U.S.] urban areas to replace [‘you all’] with ‘you guys,’ even if those addressed include females. One Texas writer calls ‘you guys’ a ‘horrid Yankee construction.’ Steve Blow, ‘What’s Up with Y’all?’ Dallas Morning News, 27 Sept. 2002, at A25.”

Garner adds that “‘you guys’ . . . may have resulted from the great influx of a geographically diverse population” in large cities in the Southern U.S. “throughout the 1980s and 1990s, coupled with a growing sense among natives that ‘you all’ and ‘y’all’ signal provincialism” (Garner’s “Usage Tip of the Day,” August 20, 2014).

Have you ever caught yourself using “you all,” “y’all,” or, more commonly on the Prairies, “you guys?” None of these constructions pass muster with the expectations of education and gentility that are associated with business writing. But such uses do occasionally appear, in social settings around us. And of course the likelihood of your adopting them increases if you visit a community where they are the linguistic norm. (Although my Scottish friend admittedly did not adopt the “y’all” in her time in the American South.)

Please share with me your linguistic anomalies and questions through the “Contact” page on my website (www.elizabethshih.com)

And I hope y’all have a good day!

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