Bios

November 10, 2011 | Category: Random | By:

Only in the South

We have a lot of people who move to our fair Southern town from the North. Some people call them Yankees. For others, the words Profit and Prosperity come to mind. For me, this more or less harmonious juxtaposition of North and South simply makes for rich Word Snob material.

I'm a Southerner at heart. I love the climate, the attitude, the gentility and general warmth. I've lived in the North a lot, having grown up as an Army brat.

My last big move was from rural mountains near Pittsburgh (go, Pirates!) to the big city of Atlanta. In the midst of all of this childhood migration was my chameleon-like change from one dialect to another. Now, I have almost no accent.

What I do have is an appreciation for how people say things differently. And what I hear most is my Northern friends commenting on how we say things around here. For example:

Where pigs stay

Pen, Pin. Only in the South, said my Minnesota friend Andrew Thielen, do you need to say "ink pen" or "pigpen." In the North, "pen" rhymes with "when," "Ben," and "Zen." "Pin" rhymes with "thin." But in the South, we say "peh-un" or some such for both. So is it the thing you stick into something, or the thing you use for writing, or maybe the place where animals stay? I guess you could say it's kind of muddy.

An elegant solution.

On the other hand, our languid, lyrical way with vowels has created the beautiful and fine word, "y'all." That's one syllable, rhyming with "tall." It started as two words of course, "you" and "all." That's how we made fun of Southerners when I was in Pennsylvania. We would draw it out, as "You-All," to say someone was a hick. But that ain't it. (Ha ha, I said "ain't).

"Y'all" is, I believe, the best solution possible for addressing more than one person. Growing up in the North, I've said "y'uns," "youse," and "you guys,"  depending on the neighborhood. What we're trying to say is "all of you" or, in fact, "you all." Most of us have forgotten our grammar lesson that "you" is singular and plural. To describe a group, you can still address the multitude as "you." It just isn't instantly clear.  (And, good heavens, don't say "you people." You see what it did for Ross Perot.)

"Y'all" is instantly clear. I recommend it for worldwide usage. One word, one syllable, one verb sound. Like "pin." Or "pen," for writers and pigs. I've got friends in both camps.

- Michael Byrd

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