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Y'all come back now.

June 24th, 2010 (01:19 am)
naughty
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current mood: instructional

Every few years, I like to review the Southern term "y'all" with those who "aren't from around here." Since I just brought it up on Facebook, I figure it's a good time to revisit it, particularly since a comment from Chris H reminded me yesterday that some of you haven't actually been reading every one of my posts since 2004. (And I have to wonder, Why not? Do you have a life or something?)

I begin with a reminder of a rule you should have learned early in your grammar instruction, the concept of "implied you." You were taught that every complete sentence has a subject and a verb, then you saw a sentence such as, "Hit the ball!" Unless you were me, and immediately began cringing and ducking at the idea of a softball approaching your head at high velocity, you gave your teacher a perplexed look while you failed to find the subject. Then you learned that the subject is the "implied you": YOU hit the ball--or (You) hit the ball, if you prefer. The subject is not actually in the sentence; it's implied.

Keep that old rule in mind; it becomes important later.

The word "y'all" is a contraction for "you all." First Rule of Y'all: As with any contraction, an apostrophe is put in the place of missing letters. Here, those letters are the 'o' and 'u' of "you." This means the apostrophe will never, ever be between the 'a' and the 'l' of "all." There are no letters missing from the word "all." I'm not even going to write it incorrectly because knowing it's wrong on my LJ will aggravate my insomnia. I'll end up lying in bed hallucinating softballs with their red thread punctuating "y'all" incorrectly being lobbed at my head, and I'll have to get up and take a Vicodin, and damn if I'm wasting my drugs on something other than the its/it's trauma.

Second Rule of Y'all: It never means anything except "you all." As in, more than one of you. Two or more of you. Plural. Multiples. More than one person, one child, one dog, one raccoon out back rootin' around in the trash.

But that can't be, you think. Because you've seen Southerners on TV shows and in movies, and they are forever saying "y'all" to one person. The gorgeous belle sits at a bar in New Orleans, ceiling fans clacking overhead, one bead of sweat slowly traveling from beneath her ear lobe until it's lost inside her ample cleavage, and the Yankee journalist wanders in, wiping his face with a handkerchief (it's an old movie), whereupon the belle asks him, in her sultry voice, "Hot enough for y'all?" Or the Yankee journalist is racing his foreign-made car along the backroads of Valdosta, Georgia, trying to catch the guys who just stole his only copy of his handwritten notes (again, old movie) from his motel room, when the local sheriff (always overweight) stops him and drawls, "Where y'all going in such a hurry?"

But, you say, there's ONLY ONE JOURNALIST walking into the bar! Driving the car! So that means Becky is wrong!

Right?

No. It means the script was written by a non-Southerner. Or after a Southerner wrote it, some non-Southerner came along and changed it. Because if a Southerner means one person, he or she doesn't say "y'all." We are quite familiar with the word "you" and we can use it with the same skill with which we nail plywood over the windows when a hurricane's coming or fill a deviled egg plate to take to the family of a recently deceased person.

I believe I understand how this misconception of a singular "y'all" infiltrated the non-Southern brain. The non-Southerners don't know about the unwritten grammar rule I call "implied others." People who don't know us hear us use "y'all" when we're talking to a single person. For example, a non-Southerner sees two Southerners greet each other, and one asks the other, "How y'all doin'?" It does seem like one is calling the other one "y'all." But I promise, in that case, "y'all" means you, your parents, your kid who got the fishing hook caught in his lip at the lake last weekend, your ex-husband's sister who's graduating from Ole Miss (or Ol' MIss, but that's a different battle), and that biscuit eater of a dog you let sleep in your bed. The person asked understands all this, but the non-Southerner has no idea.

It's probably counterproductive to get into all y'all, all y'all's, all y'allses', or your mama and them. I personally have never hoped for miracles, just a well-placed apostrophe, the use of "y'all" only when more than one person is meant, and maybe that you realize sugar is as misplaced in cornbread or on grits as a softball is in my vicinity.

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