Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Y'all Drawl Deconstructed

This past week, a Sister in Crime from Minnesota forwarded to me some amusing observations on Southerners, such as Southern women know everybody’s first name:  Honey, Darlin’ or Shugah.  (So true.  Especially as you get older and start misrembering an acquaintance’s given name.)  Or this one:  Put 100 Southerners in a room and half of them will discover that they’re related, even if only by marriage.

Most of the comments made me smile in agreement, but I had to take exception to one of them:  In the South, y’all is singular; all y’all is the plural.

No.  NO.  NO!

Y’all is ALWAYS plural, no exceptions.  You may hear a Southerner say to the only other person in the room, “So, are y’all going to the fish fry next week?” but what the speaker actually means and what the person addressed understood was “Are you and your spouse, significant other, children, book club, or Sunday School class going?”  It’s the equivalent of the Northern/Brooklyn “Youse guys.” ("All y'all" means everyone within earshot.)

Even as a child I was annoyed by novelists and screenwriters who always had the dumb blonde saying “You-all” when she was flirting with a man and clearly meant him alone.  When I read this verse sometime in the early 1950's — in the Saturday Evening Post, I think — I immediately committed it to memory (a somewhat faulty memory, I admit)  Unfortunately, I did not memorize the author’s name, only that she was a woman. 


Come all of you from other parts,

Both city folks and rural,

And listen while I tell you this:

The word “you-all” is PLURAL.

If I should say to Hiram Jones,

For instance, “You-all’s lazy.”

Or “Would you-all lend me your knife?”

He’d think that I was crazy.

And when we say, “Now you-all come

Or we shall all be lonely,”

We mean a dozen folks perhaps,

And not one person only.


So if you’d be more sociable

And with us freely mingle,

You’d find that on the native tongue

“You-all” is never single.

Don’t think I mean to criticize

Or act as if I knew all,

But when we speak of only one,

We just say “You” like you-all.

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