Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ya'll versus Y'all or the True War of Northern Agression

Once upon a time, a young, beautiful Texan who had a laugh like sunshine and hair that dazzled over miles and miles (this is me), learned, what one day would become her favorite word. Ya'll.

Being from the middle of nowhere Texas this lovely little Texan grew and flourished and used ya'll for the entirety of her existence. She wrote it on note books, she wrote it in papers, she wrote it on book covers, trapper-keepers, her hands, arms and pants. She wrote ya'll everywhere.

Until one day, when this gorgeous, effervescent Texan went to college in the northern south, or what she calls Washington, DC. In one of her first papers, she wrote the word ya'll and some crass and ugly teacher marked her down in points for it. She may or may not have used ya'll over 30 times in this personal essay and may or may not have gotten a C because of ya'll.

But it wasn't the word that the teacher frowned so deeply and rudely upon. It was the lovely Texan's spelling (I eventually wrote an essay discussing why ya'll is acceptable and for which the teacher gave me full marks for and fixed my previous grade). You see a bunch of nutty English people all the way over on the opposite side of the world wrote this dictionary that you might have heard of, the Oxford English Dictionary, and they decided that based on what they thought the contraction was used for was You and All or You-all or Y'all. These English loonies thought that they had the answer. And maybe they did... but they didn't. Webster, that sorry S.O.B. soon followed suit. And before the southerners even knew what was happening, their word had been wordjacked.

See, because the root of the word ya'll is not you all at all!

It's Ya-all.

See, down in the backwards south where this lovely Texan was raised and where her parents and teachers and family members, and friends grew up - they don't much care for the grammar, diction and syntax of those fancy northerners or those bizarr-o English folk. Case in point Boomer from King of the Hill.

Down in the deep south where A's become O's and E's become A's, they dont much care for that fancy quick pronunciation of those northern ninnies (not saying any of you lovely people are one, but they just dont give two shits in a bucket).

Time slows down in the south. Words slow down in the south. And all this slowing down means that words that once meant one thing now mean another thing. There are many origin stories for ya'll but what I postulate actually happened is the hybridization of the Scots-Irish and the Slaves at the time.

Ya'll wasn't popularized until after the words Ye, thee, thou, etc... fell out of favor. So hear me out.

If time is slowed down in the south, that means that ""ye" in the 18th and 19th centuries was probably still in use in the southern United States, due to heavy use of family bibles in the area (think about it, where do we hear those phrases now? Only in the Bible), which leads me to believe that there were people out there in boondock country using the frame Ye-all, which over time and use, became the southernized version Ya-all, which when contracted into the phrase Ya'll.

This explains why for the better part of the 20th century great American SOUTHERN authors (remember ya'll comes from the south) were using the word Ya'll instead of Y'all. It makes no sense why a group of people would contract You-All instead of Ya-all, when they like drawing out words SOOOO much they've found a way to make well, sprite, rats, etc... two syllable words. The only logical reason for them to create a contraction for a word, would be if that word has two of the same letters back to back - case in point Ya-All. The A at the end of YA and the A at the beginning of All join together when you say those two words.

So the delineation of the word Ya'll HAS to come from the contraction for Ya-all.

Here's my further argument.

At the point in time that this word was becoming popularized as a colloquial term, the majority of people in the southern United States could not read or write. Think about it. My great-great grandparents signed Xs on all of their documents and theirs before that, unless we're talking about the group that may or may not have owned people... So it's my fervent belief that when this word was finally put onto paper it was put on paper by southerners who understood where the word came from see - William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Carson McCullers, which is why when they spelled it in their novels and writings they used the original word Ya'll.

However, the confusion comes when people from outside the region attempt to construct a reasoning for why the word exists, which is where the terminology y'all comes from. And here's my reasoning for this conclusion. Whenever people try to box in phrases from another group in society, they often get the word wrong. Case in point any family that came through Ellis Island and had their names changed by people who didn't understand the language they spoke.

It's with this belief in mind that the majority of people outside the region who began to pick up the word ya'll as it slowly spread, began trying to put a definition to the word. These people being of sound body and mind and having never experienced the south in all its radiant splendor assumed that it had to be a contraction for you-all, and I can see where that assumption might come from. It is of reasonable assumption that the majority of people that first were introduced to the word heard it before they read it, which means that they learned it through oral tradition, but without the back story, so while they knew that it was the culmination of a term that meant a group of people, they were not aware of the history.

This fact leads me to believe that the word Y'all is a construct created when oral tradition was no longer the norm in the evolution of the southern-english language. And it's of this belief that leads me to posture that without written language this argument of Ya'll vs Y'all would not exist.

This furthers the belief that y'all is sincerely an evolution of the term ya'll as it is defined in a living language. Here is where the word y'all vs ya'll comes to play and here is why the fight is still raging. The fight is based in the historical culture of the south and all the words and terminologies that have come from it vs the modernization of this culture.

You will find that the people that use the term y'all instead of ya'll will be better educated or not from the region from whence this term came. The people that use the term ya'll instead of y'all will have roots that are firmly grounded in the southern culture and typically use this word on a normal basis. And the people that use these two terms interchangeably are more than like descendants of the south who have gone on to get higher education or have moved from the region and are struggling with the dichotomy of upholding one's heritage as southerners are apt to do vs growing in the modern culture of today.

It's with these facts in hand that I say that both are proper terms for the word. Y'all is acceptable and so is ya'll. These words are a piece of the continuing evolution of our language as it changes generation to generation and I think that it is definitely plausible that this battle between a simple placement of an apostrophe will continue to be fought for the next century. As the strong southern roots begin to fade, so will the word ya'll, and the backstory and the history of how this term came to be will fade as well, but as long as there are people you use the word y'all, the legacy will continue to thrive.

But here is the point of this entire rambling - Ya'll is the original spelling of the word, and will be until the end of time. Y'all is the modern evolution of the word and is considered the proper spelling by people who dictate spelling structures, but it is only because the people who put it in their dictionaries did not know how to spell it properly or the definition and origin of the word in the first place.

So you can spell it however you would like to, but when someone insists that it's spelled y'all because it's a contraction of you-all, you now have the truth. No. It's spelled y'all because someone with a dictionary spelled it that way. Either way you toss it, y'all is a contraction for ya-all and you can spell it any way you G-damn please, because in the south, that's how we do things.


  1. *chuckle* Here's one of the butt-hurt warnings I just wrote for my current work: Finally, if’n I create anyone who actually means “you all,” I’ll spell it “y’all.” Until then, I’ve contracted “ya all” to “ya’ll” just like Faulkner and Hemmingway. If’n any of that’s gonna chap ya bottom, save us both the butt balm 'n read something else.

  2. I feel your pain regularly:

  3. I'm so glad I stumbled upon this post. I love it!
    It was a real head-scratcher of a moment when someone asked me why I didn't spell it "y'all" and wanted to debate the point. Or maybe their non-point. Hugs!