Y Is for Y’all–Dictionary +: #atozchallenge



Note: I wrote the following early on Saturday, April 27, Y-Day, but left posting until I returned from hearing La Boheme at Austin Opera. I got home later than expected, however, and forgot to post. When I remembered, it was already the 28th. I could have beaten myself up for fouling out of the challenge with only Y and Z to go. Instead, I said to myself, “Somewhere in this world it’s still Saturday.” So here’s my Saturday post



Today’s AtoZ post, unlike previous posts, is informational. It’s also intended to be educational and to help people not in the know to avoid egregious errors.

The topic is Y’all.

First, is y’all a word? Yes. It appears in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as a contraction used informally to mean “You-all.”

The OED, because it has Oxford in the title and is published by Oxford University Press is, of course, like the New York Times, the King James Bible, and Shakespeare,  the authority.

(I didn’t really need to consult the OED, because I already knew it’s a word.)

Unfortunately, that’s all the OED says about y’all, but other dictionaries offer more information. Dictionary.com (DC) points out that it’s a pronoun, “U.S. dialect abbreviation of you all.”  Merriam Webster_ (MW) says, “variant of YOU-ALL, chiefly Southern: YOU usually used in addressing two or more persons.” The Urban Dictionary (UB) says it’s  “Southern 2nd person plural pronoun. “

This takes us to the second question, which is where the egregious errors come in: Is y’all a singular pronoun or a plural pronoun?

As noted above, both MW and the UB  point out that it’s plural. It is properly used when addressing one person, or one person who represents family, organization, etc.” (MW)

Script writers would do well to take note of that fact.

For more on number, read on.

Question three: Does the use of y’all demonstrate the speaker’s poor education, ignorance, or general hickiness?

Yawl, not y’all

Y’all speakers might refrain from saying the word when in formal situations, such as job interviews, discussions with English professors or waiters at extra-nice restaurants, or conversations with English-speaking residents of non-American continents.

More on this a few paragraphs down.

Now, I can hardly believe this, and I’m not sure it’s wise on their parts, but both MW and UB allow people to comment. Comments don’t see proper in a dictionary, but there you have it.

I’m afraid quoting them here will lower the level of discourse and will possibly render the blog family unfriendly. But we’ve seen a lot of that kind of thing lately. Many formerly unprintable words, as well as formerly unprintable insults, are now flung about with abandon.

So what the heck.

Warning: The following content hints at emotions that non-y’all users may consider offensive, but THEY ARE NOT INTENDED AS INSULTS–THEY’RE TONGUE IN CHEEK–TO LAUGH AT, NOT TO OFFEND–Y’ALL SPEAKERS DO LAUGH THEMSELVES OURSELVES.

Regarding, “Is it a word?”

“It is acceptable proper English. It is even in the Oxford dictionary and has been used for over 200 years. It’s used in other countries where English is present as well. ” (MW)

“I lived it.
Texas to Georgia and back again.” (MW)

“Because if Outlook tells me one more time it isn’t in the dictionary, and thus, isn’t a word, I am throwing my computer. Y’all just don’t know!) (MW)

“Y’all damn right it’s proper English” (MW)

Yawl, not y’all

Then, “Is y’all singular or plural?”

“Despite the assurance of some emails that have been passing around, “y’all” is plural. Only an absolute idiot would use it as a singular pronoun.” (UB)

And finally, “Does the use of y’all demonstrate the speaker’s poor education, ignorance, or hickiness?”

“Despite what some think, it is not only used by hicks and the uneducated. People from all walks of life, traditionally the southern states use it.” (UB)

“And mind you, that we southerners get very offended when stupid people think anyone who says it is a hick. Shut the hell up.” (UB)

“The best way to address two or more people. . . . Better than: you guys, youse guys, and you all! Yes, I live in Southern Alabama, and yes, I attended Harvard!” (UB)

“Only an absolute idiot would use it as a singular pronoun.” (UB)

I hope this post about y’all has been enlightening. Most non-y’all speakers, upon hearing the word, are taken aback and respond by teasing the speaker. No one in his right mind could be offended by a little teasing. As I said, y’all users recognize their own peculiarities and can, and do, laugh along with the teaser.

Some non-y’all speakers, however, seem to have no consideration for the y’all speaker’s feelings. One such remark appears among the comments in the Merriam Webster:

“Heard some dumbass woman from Texas say it.”
But instead of taking offense, a y’all speaker responded in a most respectful manner:

“Bless your simple heart.”



Be Back Dreckly

King George VI (shown left) with Eleanor Roose...
King George VI, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Queen Elizabeth--23 October 1942--Image via Wikipedia

My Crock-pot and I have just produced an absolute travesty of a pot roast.

No details. The experience is still too painful to discuss.

The short story course I’m taking online began today with a lecture regarding structure, followed by a brief exercise. So far, instructor Kaye George has managed to tear me away from Hamlet and set me on the road to genre fiction. Thank goodness.

Since yesterday’s post, I’ve been thinking more about retro words and phrases that must be saved. One that comes to mind is dreckly.

When my mother said, “Stay right here. I’ll be back dreckly,” my six-year-old cousin, a California native, asked me how long that would be. I was six as well, and I’d never thought about it. We worked out that dreckly probably meant ten minutes.

I thought we were the only ones who said dreckly, so at the age of thirteen, I was surprised to discover Scarlett O’Hara saying it. Margaret Mitchell, or perhaps her editor, spelled it terreckly, I believe.

That was about the time I realized the word was a mangled version of directly. Quite an epiphany.

I count myself fortunate to have lived among people whose language strayed outside the bounds of Merriam-Webster. I also appreciate having known people whose lives reached so far back in time.

Ethel Waller, my father’s aunt, once traveled with Cousin Tom McKenzie from Fentress to Fort Stockton, 365 miles, riding on a buckboard. That fact has always fascinated me, not just because of the means of transportation and the distance covered, but because someone I knew made that trip.

My grandfather knew an old man who, when he was a boy, saw General Robert E. Lee sitting astride Traveler. Dad told me that when I was ten. He didn’t have to emphasize its importance. We were Southerners. Knowing someone who knew someone who saw Robert E. Lee was a very big deal. Having that connection to Traveler was an even bigger deal.

Years ago I heard a scrap of a program on NPR about—I’ve forgotten exactly how it was, but it went something like this: Alice Roosevelt Longworth employed a gardener whose father knew George Washington.

That’s not even six degrees of separation. And consider the span. Washington was born in 1731. Alice Longworth died in 1980.

Taking my cue from Mrs. Longworth, I worked out how far and wide I could range. It’s a fun game to play.

My grandfather, Frank Waller, knew someone who saw, or for my purposes, knew, Robert E. Lee. General Lee married Anna Mary Custis, who was great-granddaughter to Martha Washington, who was married to George, who knew John Adams, who was married to Abigail Adams…

I could go in another direction, to Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, perhaps, and come out who knows where, but Abigail Adams makes a fine journey’s end. (If only the Founding Fathers had listened to her.)

On the other side of my family—my grandmother, Mary Veazey Barrow, was kissed by President William McKinley (that’s another story), and President McKinley knew Theodore Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt was uncle to Eleanor Roosevelt (another sensible woman), and Eleanor (aside from being married to Franklin) knew Winston Churchill, and Winston Churchill knew King George VI, who knew King George V, who knew Queen Victoria, who knighted Sir Arthur Sullivan (although she was probably not amused), who knew William Gilbert.

As in the previous case, if I were to branch off in other directions, I could bring in Lawrence of Arabia, Disraeli, Tsar Nicholas II, Rasputin…

But if I have my druthers, I’ll stick with Gilbert. Not a charming man, I’ve read…

To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,
In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock,
Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock,
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!

But he had a way with words.

Day 23: The most beautiful words

The most beautiful word in the English language is the compound word cellar door.

J. R. R. Tolkien said that. I have no idea why.

I’m partial to murmur and serendipity.

A student once told me that hearing the word button just drove her up the wall.

When I was about four years old, I discovered that if I repeated tuna over and over, it lost all meaning. Army worked the same way. I was afraid if I went on repeating long enough, I might fall into a trance, so I always stopped after a reasonable interval.

Instead of saying garage, my father said car house. My mother told me the phrase was related to the buggy house of his boyhood. He also sometimes referred to light bread. Both of my parents called the refrigerator an ice box at least half the time. My grandfather and many of his contemporaries used the same terms. I’m sure there were others I don’t remember.

A cousin helps me keep ice box alive. But I miss car house and light bread. They were a link to my father’s boyhood. They spoke of his memories of horses and buggies, of homemade bread baked from white flour rather than brown.  Those words were living history. 

The Oxford English Dictionary is set to retire a number of words, as it does periodically. Our language continues to change, and old words fall out of use.

It seems a shame to let them go.

Save the Words allows logophiles the opportunity to keep endangered words in circulation. The site places words for adoption–find a specific word or let Save the Words assign one–and offers ideas for using them.

I’ve registered for STW but haven’t yet adopted my word. There are so many to choose from.

Vampirarchy* is on my short list. I could work that one into conversation with no problem at all. I can imagine other people picking it up, too. It could go viral.

And the word has nothing to do with Twilight.

When it comes down to it, I’ll probably adopt several.

But back to beautiful words.

Tolkien was a fine writer, but he had a tin ear. Or perhaps he just forgot.

In any case, the most beautiful words in the English language are these:

lucent syrops tinct with cinnamon.

If that line went viral, the world would be a more beautiful place.


* A set of ruling persons, comparable to vampires.


The Hot Word

The Eve of St. Agnes, by John Keats

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