“It’s y’all, dad, and it makes me mad that you don’t say it!” – My Eldest Daughter, rebuking me for attempting to convert to ‘you guys.’
I am a pastor/writer that has been living in Salinas, California for all of seven weeks after spending over four decades in the heart of the Deep South: Birmingham, Alabama. Because it only takes a few weeks to fully understand a culture (wink, wink), I am endeavoring to write a series of posts that examines the differences between life in the South and life in California. Some of these posts will be quite serious, but be warned that there is much tom-foolery, and tongue in cheekery to follow.
The hardest thing about moving over 2000 miles away from your hometown is leaving behind friends and family. I think the second hardest aspect of moving is packing and unpacking. At this point we have only eight boxes left to unpack (down from over 2.8 million) so that is a triumph of the human spirit. I was led to believe, before moving, that culture shock would be a difficult thing for our family. Since California is obviously completely different from the South, it seems reasonable that our family would have a difficult time adjusting to the pace and differences of life. Thus far, however, we have experienced very little culture shock. In fact, we have really enjoyed the California culture, and find many similarities between the people and practices of this area and those back in SEC country. Though the demographics of people are very different in my new city (78 percent Hispanic background), the behavior of people here is not massively different. People are people, as Depeche Mode once sagely observed.
Though the similarities do outnumber the differences, there are more than a trivial amount of deviations between life in the South and life in California. For instance, we just registered our vehicles here yesterday and paid over $800 for the privilege of getting California license plates! (That same transaction in Alabama would have cost less then $200 for our modest vehicles) Gas is significantly cheaper back home also, though food prices somewhat balance out, because California, like Florida, does not tax groceries. Overall, life is mostly more expensive here in Cali, and there are more people, laws, taxes, fees, earthquakes, fires and skateboarders than you would find in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, etc. I could kick off this series by writing about dozens of different cultural differences, but I will focus on the single most important, most obvious, most glaring, and most divisive difference between Southern life and California life: ‘Y’all’ vs. ‘You guys’. Sharpen your pitchforks, because we’re about to get serious, y’all…er, you guys.
For years, sociologists have understood that the greatest differentiation and separation between English speaking humans has nothing to do with skin color, politics, nor economics, but is rather a function of how a person handles the second person plural of ‘You,’ Some people express this plural of you by the contraction, ‘Y’all,’ while other people use the phrase ‘you guys,’ or ‘you all’ in the exact same way. Some people simply say ‘You,’ for both the second person singular and second person plural. Disturbingly, there are a few people that even use the abomination ‘youse guys,’ (or, worse, ‘you’uns’) but this article won’t cover that treasonous crime against the English language. In the South, people sometimes mix ‘you guys,’ ‘you all,’ and ‘y’all,’ but I would guess that ‘y’all’ is used about 85-90 percent of the time, followed by ‘you guys,’ and then ‘you all,’ Those numbers are flipped and probably more extreme in California, I believe. We have heard a few instances of ‘y’all’ use out here in the wild, but it is indeed quite rare.
According to my own highly accurate, science based surveys, Southerners use ‘y’all,’ approximately 2,700 times a day, so quite a lot. Moving west past the Y’allson-Dixon line forces one to make a choice: Should I continue y’alling everything, or should I seek to adapt to the culture and avoid certain etymological bullying? My choice has been to adapt, or at least try to. I have little problems with the principle of cultural adaption on morally neutral issues of language. My family, however, are non-adapters, and they see me as something of a linguistic Benedict Arnold. Behind closed doors, when I say ‘you guys,’ I receive a high amount of persecution from my family in the form of eye rolls, sighs, and sharp glances. The struggle is real, y’all!
Interestingly, the good people of California have been far more tolerant and accommodating, as you might expect. They have encouraged us to continue in our use of ‘y’all,’ and have even described it as ‘charming.’ Though my daughter has been mistaken for a foreign exchange student at her high school a couple of times (true story!), she has also found that people enjoy her accent, and some students have even resolved to make ‘y’all’ a thing. Our mission of moving to California to spread the good news of ‘y’all’ is coming along quite nicely!
5 Scientific and Completely Serious Reasons that ‘Y’all’ is superior to ‘You Guys.’
- ‘Y’all’ is ONE syllable, as compared to the two syllables of ‘you guys,’ and the seven or eight syllables of ‘youse guys’ and ‘you’uns.’ It is much easier to say, and wastes less energy, therefore it is more environmentally friendly. Climatologists estimate that the entire western seaboard switching to ‘y’all’ would lower global temperatures by at least 3 degrees Kelvin within a decade of adoption, permanently ending the global warming crisis, and ushering in a new era of Grammatical Enlightenment. Yes, I capitalized that phrase, because the Grammatical Enlightenment will be just as important, if not more important, than the regular Enlightenment, which we also capitalize.
- ‘Y’all’ is forward thinking by being gender neutral, whereas ‘you guys’ perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes. Be on the right side of history!
- ‘Y’all’ has less letters, and thus requires less ink to print than ‘you guys.’ The ‘G’ alone in you guys uses up as much ink as TWO ‘i’s!’ THINK OF THE TREES!
- ‘Y’all’ can be said approximately 43 percent faster than ‘you guys.’ Not only does that use less energy (see above) but it also takes LESS TIME! Who has time to spare in this busy season of American life?? ‘You guys’ would be perfect for the early days of American history, like during the American Revolution, or World War 1, when people had the time to just sit around and chew on hay while chatting with friends in the fields. But today, we are so busy, we need to be efficient with our words. Linguists estimate that Californians could save an average of 14 minutes a day by switching to ‘y’all!’ Think about what you could do with that time- that’s four more ‘snoozes’ in the morning, or almost three full episodes per week of that show you are binging on Netflix right now.
- The usage of y’all can satisfy several important grammatical functions, including a collective pronoun, an associative plural, an indefinite pronoun, and an institutional pronoun. I totally didn’t copy that sentence from somewhere else, and I absolutely know what an institutional pronoun is…who doesn’t?!
10 quick facts about “Y’all”
- ‘Y’all’ is a contraction of “you all.” The ‘ou’ has dropped out and been replaced by an apostrophe.
- Though I do see the irony in speaking of proper grammar in the context of ‘y’all,’ the proper spelling and use of the word is y’all, NOT ya’ll. Ya’ll is a contraction of ‘Ya-all,’ which sounds abominable. Y’all appears ten times more often in print than other derivatives. I have a particular set of skills, and if you use ‘ya’ll’ in writing, I will find you.
- ‘Y’all’ first appeared in print in 1824, so it is a modernish invention, similar to combustion engines, microprocessors, rockets ships, photon torpedoes, faster than light travel, warp-speed, etc. This means that it represents an advancement in linguistic technology, sort of like how high speed internet is an advancement over 56k modems, and Corvettes are an advancement over riding on goats.
- ‘Y’all’ developed independently among South African Indian English speakers and those of a Scottish background (likely deriving from the Scottish phrase, ‘ye-aw.’) That it developed independently among two different people groups demonstrates that ‘y’all’ is a logical progression of language.
- Y’all is a partial replacement for ‘Ye,’ which was commonly used in older English. “Hear ye, Hear ye,” would now be translated as, “Hear y’all, hear y’all!” (Notice the inelegance of “Hear you guys, hear you guys.”)
- ‘Y’all’ is translated to ‘You lot’ in British English. (One of the few areas that British English is inferior to American English. ‘You lot’ just sounds silly)
- ‘Y’all’ can be used properly when speaking to a single person, if the phrase is being used of a group of people. For instance, If I was out riding my horse around the cow patties in Alabama, and I ran into my friend Jeb, I would say this to him, “What are y’all doing for dinner tonight?” Even though I was just asking him, I am including other people in that statement.
- ‘All y’all’ is the proper way to refer to large groups, or a collective of several somehow related groups. For instance, in referring to several different (but related) families, “All Y’all Clampett’s make good hoe cakes!” Or, “All Y’all Auburn fans should convert!” (Note: I have never had an actual hoe cake, and am not really sure what it is. Also, Roll Tide.)
- ‘Y’all’ is also utilized in other English speaking countries, such as the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Island of Saint Helena, and the Middle Eastern country Bubbastan.
- The first use of ‘Y’all’ in the English printed language is this sentence, from a Texas history book, ““Why, heern as how the regerlators wur guine to cotch y‘ all and swing y‘ up to dry, us thought we’d better heave to.”” Yes, that sounds as foreign to my ears as it does to yours!
Thanks for reading! Coming soon, I plan to write about: Driving in California vs. The South. Fancy Waters in California vs. The South. Southern Beaches vs. California Beaches. Cost of Living + more!