Wordsmithing returns with Bryan Garner . . . .

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) and 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 “y’all” soon in the new “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.” ((c) Bryan Garner, “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!

2 Replies to “Wordsmithing returns with Bryan Garner . . . .”

  1. Not exactly true. I lived in the southern US for years and went to school there – absolutely everyone used “y’all” – there was no class distinction about it. If they look down on it today, it’s because too many “damn Yankees” (as we used to call them) have moved down there. I still say “y’all”. BTW, using “y’all” for only one person is not really correct in the South – it applies only to more than one person. Probably the person using it to the Scottish lady alone was using it as an affectation… Nobody normal would say that.

    1. Thanks for registering your disagreement, Christine. I haven’t spent sufficient time in the southern U.S., as you have, to challenge Bryan Garner’s analysis. But it certainly could be possible that my Scottish friend happened upon a local who was “playing up” to tourists, with “y’all.” The friend was there for a conference, but I regret that I don’t recall where she was (which city or state). If I can track her down to ask, I will. Thanks again for deepening the discussion.

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