Donald M Lance lancedm at MISSOURI.EDU
Wed Jul 3 19:50:51 UTC 2002

E D I T O R ' S     N O T E B O O K

Saving Y'all

The Alcalde July/August 2002, p. 10
(alumni magazine of the University of Texas, Austin)

>From this office, you can hear a linguistic and cultural death rattle. You
can hear it in the classrooms, at the shuttle bus stops. "You guys know
where this stops?" You can hear it in the bookstores and restaurants that
encircle campus. "You guys know what you want to order yet?" I'm speaking,
of course, about the impending death of the expression "y'all" at the hands
of the address "you guys," like an aggressive exotic species supplanting a
native one. Some of my friends and even my wife refuse to become alarmed at
this, and so I must now use this platform to call on all good Texas Exes
everywhere to save the expression "y'all."
  "Y'all" is as integral to the Texas experience as Dr Pepper and Dallas
Cowboy arrests. Texas life just wouldn't be the same without it. We get
worked up (rightly) over the disappearance of obscure lizards and birds, but
without a champion, the priceless cultural gem that is "y'all" may be
extinct by the time this reaches your mailbox.
    Older alumni will be incredulous that such a time-honored expression
could indeed be on the way out. To those I say, come to campus. Shop at the
Gap at Guadalupe and 24th, place an order at the Wendy's in the Union. Hear
for yourself.
    Let's first dispense with the nonsense that there is something
substandard or wrong with the expression "y'all." As a contraction of "you
all," it is, at worst, somewhat redundant, in that "you" suffices as plural.
But it is no more redundant than "you guys" and is leaps and bounds more
correct than its Northern counterpart "yous," which is simply beneath
    And how wrong can it be if it has made the American Heritage Dictionary
of the English Language, Fourth Edition, which states, "The single most
famous feature of Southern United States dialects is the pronoun y'all,
sometimes heard in its variant you-all. You-all functions with perfect
grammatical regularity as a second person plural pronoun, taking its own
possessive you-all's (or less frequently, your-all's, where both parts of
the word are inflected for possession): You-all's voices sound alike."
    Normally, the evolution of expressions favors shorter and shorter
incarnations, a phenomenon that could be called the KFC-ification of
language. But here, we go from the one-syllable "y'all" to the
multiple-syllable "You guys."
    Also, nowhere in "y'all" is there the slightest hint of sexism, as with
"you guys." We can't refer to God as "Him" anymore, but it seems we can call
all of humankind "guys."
    Curiously, even as it is passing out of favor with the mainstream, it is
gaining popularity within the "hip hop" dialect, as in "'sup, y'all?" This
fact, however, does not seem to soothe me. So much of hip hop must now be
bleeped out that "y'all" may become permanently associated with pottymouthed
performers. of course, the one sure way to bring it back is for broadcasters
to start bleeping it. (Note to self: Write FCC.)
    Now then, as with anything good, we must guard against overindulgence.
As educated people, I say we must steer well clear of the possessive form
alluded to earlier, "y'all's." One local waiter asked me a while back,
"Y'all want y'all's teas now or with y'all's food?" Such overzealousness is
unseemly and gives fodder to our enemies. Yet as grammatically indefensible
as that is, it has a certain colloquial charm. This has been replaced with:
"You guys want you guys's teas ... ?"
    And think of the cultural staples that would pass away with it should we
lose this linguistic gem. There are holiday classics, like "Merry Christmas
to y'all, and to y'all a good night."
    Or words of the Bard like: "This was the noblest Roman of them, y'all."
    To those who would mindlessly replace our beloved second-person pronoun,
John Donne rebuked you best, when he wrote "Do not ask for whom the bell
tolls; it tolls for y'all."
    I'm counting on each of y'all to do your part to keep our language
genteel an enshrine this slice of Texan, for all time. The Eyes o Texas are
upon y'all.
-Avrel Seale

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