Peeve of the Day

Today’s featured peeve:  People who don’t know how to use “y’all” correctly when they’re writing — or, more accurately, trying to write — a southern dialect, and who persist in using it in the singular, rather than as the second-person plural that it properly is.

Because I have to say that I was born in Florida, was raised in Florida and Texas, and did my undergraduate work in Arkansas, and I’ve never in all my born days heard “y’all” used as a singular.

There are nuances, though . . . if I were to say to one person, “Why don’t y’all come over on Saturday night?”, the expanded version of that sentence would be something like, “Why don’t you and your significant other and all the kids (and Great-aunt Millie, if she’s visiting with you this week) come over on Saturday night?” Also, if I were to inquire of a lone sales clerk, “Do y’all have a left-handed frammistat?” I would be asking whether the store of which he/she is a representative had one in stock. If I said, “Do you have a left-handed frammistat?” I’d be asking whether he/she personally owned one.

I suspect that the reason “y’all”, like the coyote, is expanding its range where some other dialect formations are losing theirs is that while it’s marked for region, it isn’t especially marked for class — in the parts of the U.S. where it’s prevalent, it’s prevalent across the board.

This is a more common offense in television and film than in written fiction, possibly because legions of unsung copyeditors have been helping to hold the line. But even written fiction gets it wrong sometimes.

One thought on “Peeve of the Day

  1. I was unaware “y’all” was class-neutral. I have learnt something new today, and it is not even lunchtime.

    It is mildly inconvenient, and amusing, that English (a flexible and expansive language) has lost a common distinction between second person singular and plural.

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