To use or not to use?

When we moved here I knew there would be adjustments. The big ones–constant raging humidity, 18 lanes of clueless drivers, regulations on everything from the tread of our tires to how many times a day it’s acceptable to flush the toilet–I have either adjusted to accordingly or tuned out. Live and let live, right? (And pay the DMV when they send you a bill for something. Anything.)

But there’s an internal battle I fight each day against what should be a small adjustment. For me though, it’s a complex struggle between what I believe to be right, what I am comfortable with, what makes sense, and what’s easy. Pulled in different directions on a daily basis I am hard pressed to determine what my priority is. Sometimes, I admit, that priority changes. Sometimes I do what’s easy, what everyone else does. Sometimes I stand by my purist roots and refuse to do anything but the right thing. And sometimes I type and delete and retype and delete and then change it all around so I don’t have to have this fight with myself again and thereby, for one more day, get away with not making a decision. So far there has been no reckoning and so far I have had no peace with this and so far I can sum it all up in one word.


And therein lies the rub! Y’all. It’s one word! But should it be?? Certainly it’s quick to say and everyone around here does. But I don’t talk like everyone around here (unless I’m trying to make a return without a receipt or have a big order at the seafood counter, then I have a very lovely, very mild Virginia twang and I defy anyone listening to guess that I wasn’t born and raised here, like my daddy an’ my gran’daddy before me) and cranking out a “y’all” with my Yankee vowels sounds crass, even to my Oxford English Dictionary ears.

“Y’all” has a soft ring to it, that’s why it sounds right and easy coming from someone with a Southern accent, any Southern accent. But I’m from a place where people not from that place make fun of how we say simple words like “mom and dad” and even our own names. Arguably those words were ours first, while “y’all” definitely was not. Using “y’all” out loud with a Yankee accent is like a panda hiding behind bamboo. Nice try, not fooling anyone.


stealth panda

I definitely can’t write it down. A friend of mine from way down south uses “y’all” in emails and conversation the way most people take breaths: frequently and naturally. To respond to an email from her and use “y’all” feels mocking. To respond with the very Midwestern “you guys” sounds juvenile and like I’m taking it too seriously. To simply say “you” and imply the inclusive often sounds exclusionary, quite the opposite of what I’m going for. The thing is, “y’all” leaves no doubt about who is invited, to whom we are referring, and the tone of the email. But it feels so wrong!

In texting it makes sense because it is shorthand. But in an email I just haven’t been able to justify the regular use of “y’all” because my emails don’t often require that degree of shorthand and because IT’S NOT NATURAL COMING FROM ME. Part of me likes it that readers of my emails know I’m not from down south. Another part of me looks inward and says curse you, you predilection for proper grammar and polite salutation! Curse you!

There is some irony here, maybe you all have caught it. In the South, where nothing moves at a normal speed, it’s ironic that they use “y’all” as a conversational shortcut. Maybe if we took some of this grammatical make-haste and put it toward a program for crossing the parking lot with a shopping cart, I wouldn’t be idling at the crosswalk for a year while you saunter to the car to load up the sweet tea for the weekend. Chop chop, folks, some of us are turning to human jerky in this heat.

Will there ever be a reckoning? I don’t know. It’s a matter of when in Rome vs. to thine own self be true. Some days I do as the Romans do and other days I’m to mine own self so true. Today the little oyster and I are hanging out and walking around town so I’ll probably show her what it’s like to use proper English. Tomorrow we’re volunteering at church so y’all never know what could happen.


3 thoughts on “To use or not to use?

  1. Pingback: Time to say goodbye | red white and new

  2. Or, you could just speak in diphthongs and people will think you are from New Yawk or Bahston. On the other hand, just speak through your hat and they’ll know you’re from California.

Shout at me.

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