In defense of “Y’all”

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I’ve noticed that people seem to hold a lot of vitriol and hatred of the term y’all. I can only assume this stems from the belief that if you have a U.S. Southern accent, you’re automatically less intelligent than the rest of the country and/or world, therefore using words like y’all mark you as less-than by intellectual elitists.

Well, I am an intellectual elitist, and I think the word y’all is just fine. I also don’t believe that a Southern accent automatically makes someone stupid, which makes me a bit of a pariah in elitist circles.

We need more gender-neutral terms in our language. Everything is so male-dominated — people won’t blink at saying “You guys” for mixed-gender groups of people, but say “You gals” and suddenly you’re emasculating every dude in the room. “You dudes” is another term. “Hey bros.” We may throw women a bone by saying “Hey dudes and dudettes/bros and ladybros,” but you’ll notice that doesn’t happen very often. (And the words are basically just the same, with a suffix or prefix tacked on. Don’t even get me started on -ette being a diminutive.)

Yet saying “You all” seems strange, and stilted. If I try to say “You all” as two separate words, I end up saying “You all — all of you — all the people I’m talking you — you all — whatever, just come over here.” As a contraction, however, it’s much smoother, much shorter, and gender-neutral. “Hey y’all, come over here for a second.”

I mean, really, what else can you ask for? It’s perfect for everyday use. I don’t understand why people think it should be limited to the Jason Stackhouses of the world, or that using it makes you less-than. It doesn’t. Southern accents don’t make you less-than. There are tons of smart people with Southern accents, and tons of stupid people without. Dear gods, folks, stop with the hatred of people just because they come from a certain region.

And anyway, nothing sounds stupider than “Youse guys.”

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7 thoughts on “In defense of “Y’all”

  1. Sanna

    As a non-native speaker, I personally understand ‘y’all’ just as a short form for ‘you all’. Not being burdened by the accent issue. And I think it is an easy way to address a group. Especially since I found the living English language to be extremely fond of abbreviations, I can’t see a difference here.

    In Germany accent is also often frowned upon – almost every accent – for the very reason.
    ‘Because you sound stupid.’

    Erm, no, you don’t.
    You are just talking the language of your area, because – looked at this from a neutral pov – in the days when Germany was just a loose pile of different lands, counties and shires, the ‘accent’ was the language of said part. Until somewhen, someone came along and said: This is the one we shall write and we all shall speak.

    So, y’all is fine for me.

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    • *nod* I really hate prejudices based on accents.

      When I moved to the States, I had to drop my Canadian accent because everyone made fun of me. When I came back to Canada after living in the US for 10 years, I still had my US accent — and people treated me like I was inferior to them, because I “was American” and therefore a war-mongering, gun-shooting, rude douchebag.

      Now, I have this weird accent that’s a conglomeration of Canadian and US and no one knows what to think. I also flip-flop between Canadian and American spellings so much I give myself whiplash.

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  2. The problem comes from uneducated people who think that y’all can be used interchangeably with you for south accent, and it makes them sound stupid. Just like people who use Ain’t incorrectly have ruined the use of the word for the rest of us.

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  3. Finn

    *waves her y’all and ain’t flag* Which I fly high fairly often, and not always with a Texan drawl (because I really only drawl when I’m really tired or tipsy or just have been home with my parents for too long).

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  4. robinasams

    “Ain’t” is actually a word? I grew up with the saying, “Ain’t ain’t a word, so don’t say ain’t.” There’s another verse there, but I’ve forgotten the second half of it.

    I try to say “you all.” I have a tendency to say “you guys,” and it irritates me when I do that. Trying to break a habit.

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    • Yup! “Ain’t” is the correct contractual form of “am not”. Most people say “I’m not”, but “I ain’t” is also correct. It’s been around since 1706, but because of its use in the Cockney dialect to mean more than “am not” (are not, is not, etc) it was ‘banished’ from “proper” — or “non working-class” — English. Pretty good example of classism via linguistics.

      It is hard to break the habit of “you guys”. I still tend to say it.

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