Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On the Proper Usage of the Contraction Y'all

It's this Southern Belle with her Yankee hubby!
He would NEVER use "y'all" incorrectly. He might say "you uns," though!
Earlier this week I received a copy of a fun, lighthearted paranormal romance in the mail. I’d won the book through a contest at another blog, so I was excited, because, hey, free book, FTW! Last night I read the book and it was charming and fluffy, but if the DH hadn’t been sick and sleeping next to me, I might have shrieked a few times and ripped the book in half. You see, dear friends, this book was written by a Yankee. I knew only a few pages into this book that it was written by a Yankee, because said Yankee managed to punch two of my Southern Belle buttons in only one chapter, bless her heart. If I were strong enough to rip a phone book in two, I probably would have done it. I don’t count my small town’s phone book, because I’ve written papers for conferences thicker than that sucker. I’m talking 3 inch thick tomes, that’s how frustrating I found this book.

What was this poor author’s mistake? 1) There is one southerner in the book and that southerner is a dumb hick from the sticks and 2) she misused the contraction y’all. I’m not going to name the author or her book, because, truthfully, I enjoyed the book and felt that overall it was well written. It’s pure bad luck that she managed to hit two of my pet peeves in one book, and really, only one is offensive, while the other merely demonstrates what can happen if your author and copy editor are both from the same region. Still, I was pretty darn ticked, and what good is a blog if you can’t write a good rant?

So let’s begin with the southern stereotyping. Some authors use the stereotype of the dumb southerner drinking moonshine and using colorful expressions straight from The Andy Griffith Show to comedic effect. Shelly Laurenston, to my knowledge, has never lived in the South, and yet her hillbilly characters are a riot. Yes, she uses the stereotypes, but her books are FUNNY, y’all. The author-we-shall-not-name, however, has only one character from the south and that character is dumb as dirt. She’s supposed to be endearing in her empty-headedness and inability to do basic math, but frankly, after years of hearing about how in the North the schools are better, the arts are better, and down South we’re all just a bunch of barefoot hicks waving confederate flags, I have little patience for this type of character. And when I think about all the beautiful southern towns I’ve lived in compared to some of the industrial cities in the North, that just chaps my hide.

I could have overlooked this character if it were not for the persistent misuse of the contraction y’all. The author-we-shall-not-name uses the contraction y’all throughout the book in place of the singular “you.” Dear friends, y’all is PLURAL. It is the contraction of the two words “you all.” You can only use y’all when you are referring to 2 or more people. You cannot address one person as y’all, that’s just wrong! This actually confused me at times, because the character would be talking to one person and address him/her as y’all, and I’d have to go back and re-read, because for Pete’s sake, WHO ELSE IS SHE TALKING TO???

Now, I understand that in the North you’ll hear the expressions “youse guys” or “you ‘uns” or even “yinz”. These, too, are plural expressions. Let’s replace the y’all in a sample conversation with youse guys to demonstrate how y’all cannot be used as the second person singular.


Me: Hey, Tom, youse guys have spaghetti sauce on your tie.

Tom: (looking around) It’s only me here, Rebe.

Me: Duh, that’s why I said YOUSE GUYS. Yinz should also examine your fly.

Tom: Um, I’m the only one here and I’m only wearing one pair of pants.

Me: Well, don’t forget to leave the gun and take the canoli!

This misuse of the contraction y’all drove me crazy. Seriously, if you’re going to make fun of us, at least get the vernacular right! So,that’s my rant. I could expand on the misspelling of “y’all” that I’ve seen in other books (sometimes it’s written as ya’ll – shudder), but I’ll save that for another day. Lord help the author-who-shall-not-be-named, but as God is my witness, Ah shall nevah buy her books again. Bless her heart.


  1. This is a woman who'd probably also use Miracle Whip in her deviled eggs. Bless her heart.

  2. JoAnn, I just spewed sweet tea all over my computer screen, lol! Dear Lord, Miracle Whip in deviled eggs. What's next, low fat baked beans?

  3. Low fat beans would be wrong on so many levels. Right up there with putting turkey bacon in green beans.

    And let's not even get into instant grits.

    It wasn't until I moved to the South and spent 12 years in TN before moving back here to the PNW this year, that I realized that many of the sayings I heard growing up were the same ones my grandparents had brought with them from Ireland and passed on to my mother, who passed them on to me.

    Speaking of deviled eggs, here's a pic of ones I took to a party a couple wks ago. They were made with Best Foods, which is Hellman's up here.

  4. Instant grits, Yuck! Now those deviled eggs look delicious.

  5. I thought All-y'all was the plural; I have heard several Texans tell me this.

    Around here (Ozarks), you'ns and y'all are used interchageably, sometimes by the same speaker in the same discourse.

  6. Yes, I cannot understand instant grits. My first grits were at a Waffle House in Little Rock, ARK, while we drove from AZ to TN to our new home. I instantly fell in love. (They are, of course, a butter delivery system, lol)

    Once, I'd driven down to Birmingham to do a day long book-signing at the Books A Million managers' meeting and driving home, I was so exhausted I stopped at a Waffle House for grits and told the cook I thought he may have saved my life. :)

    When I go to NYC to visit editors and my agent, I love to point out to locals that they're paying $10 a plate for polenta, which is, btw, grits!

    When we lived in TN, many friends would come from Canada and the north and I'd introduce them to the wonders of grits. Although many were reluctant to try them, I never found anyone who didn't become a convert. Now I'm going to have to start introducing Pacific Northwesterners to them. :D

    And let's not forget cheese straws!

  7. JoAnn, nothing is better than fresh, warm grits smothered in butter. Yummmmmm.... And only New Yorkers would pay $10 for them!

    I can't imagine having to drive from AZ to TN - that is quite a haul!

    And the Pacific Northwest definitely doesn't know what it's missing, lol! Hopefully you enjoy good weather there - the one thing I miss the most about the South is the sunshine. Ohio is lovely, and the people here are so warm and welcoming, but the weather, lord, the weather...