Yinz, y’all, or ye? Yes

The English language is frustrating at times; often, in fact. Can you imagine trying to learn it as a second language?

That you up there? It’s a plural meant to include everyone who is trying to learn to speak English. Although in this case, it might be easier than usual because you can just use you for singular, for plural, for gender neutral, maybe even chop it up and put in your word salad or your soup. (Alphabet, of course….) It’s an all purpose word used for all purposes.

The problem comes when the writer or speaker wants specificity, or at the very least, wants to be clear. Is it you alone or is it you everybody? This is why regional versions like you all, y’all, you’uns, yinz, you’se, or you guys came into existence.

CC BY-SA 2.0 File:Yinz Are Welcome.jpg Created: 2011-10-18

You’uns is derived from the Scottish you ones and is popular in Appalachia where many Scots settled. In Pittsburghese it’s been shortened even further to yinz, and people from the Burgh take pride in calling themselves Yinzers. (On occasion, I’ve heard yinz guys, which certainly ruins the shorthand of it.) There is a store in the Strip District called Yinzers in the Burgh (where yinz can get your black and gold apparel; there’s a Yinzers Barbecue; a Yinzer Pale Ale at the Brew Dog Brewery; and there’s even a Yinzers Bar in Alabama! Where yinz can hang out with y’all

Y’all and You all seem self-explanatory, but actually the phrases are derived from Irish Gaelic ye aw.

And you’se? Well, add an ‘s and get a plural, right? (Argh! Perhaps there is a post on wrong usage’s of apostrophe’s on the horizon’s…) Although, to be fair, I’ve also seen it written youse. (Rhymes with mouse?)

Overwhelmingly, most American English speakers pluralize the you with you guys. (42.53% of the country according to a dialect study done in 2003.) The Urban Dictionary suggests its popularity comes from the egalitarian, non-pretentious American vibe which stretches across ethnicity, geography, and class. But, it also suggests that there is growing unease with the term, because it refers to everyone in male terminology, no matter how casually it is used.

I admit I used to say you guys–but after getting to a certain age, it seems well, kind of like saying Dude. Which is another male usage for generic people that we won’t bother with here.

The problem is that none of these plural you’s are considered standard or formal English. It doesn’t matter so much in written words for one can always avoid the word you and manage to sound intelligent (or pompous); but in dialogue and speech, it is certainly troublesome. When seated at a crowded dinner table and one asks, Would you pass me the turkey? one might get several hands attempting to pass you the big bird. Better yet, ask, Will you please get me a glass of wine? and one might be served several glasses…

This irritation/rumination began on Sunday in church as we were singing our closing hymn. The song was an old fashioned one with plenty of words like Thee, Thou, and Thy in it. Those aren’t usually my favorites, but I liked this one (My Jesus, I Love Thee) and then I wondered how those Olde English speakers knew when to use Thee and when to use Thou (except when writing for rhyming purposes, of course). I thought surely, of all those thee, thou, thy and thine words, there must be a plural…

Turns out, Ye Olde Plural is yep, ye guessed it, Ye.

Ye is a second-person, plural, personal pronoun, spelled in Old English as “ge”. In Middle English and early Early Modern English, it was used as a both informal second-person plural and formal honorific, to address a group of equals or superiors or a single superior.–Wikipedia

So why did a perfectly good, short little word that had an IMPORTANT duty, disappear? I’m sure ye want to know.

There are as many theories as there are people writing about it.

  1. It was a class issue–superiors, equals, workers, the industrial revolution, and all that…
  2. It was a political issue–England vs. France, tu ne sais pas?
  3. It was a religious issue–thou was singular, ye was plural, but how does one address a trinitarian God?
  4. The modern printing press, developed in Germany, did not have the letter þ (which ge began with), and so printers substituted a y, which was the letter used in the word the (like Ye Olde Shoppe), which consequently confused me, you, and you’uns.
  5. It was Shakespeare’s fault.
  6. It was the American’s fault. Which brings us back to numbers 1, 2, & 3…

I was trying to write conclusively about this for you all, (this is and has always been my plural you of choice) but honestly, half way in, I got bored and confused with all the possible explanations, olde pronunciations, and anachronistic socio-cultural idioms. You’se might want to read this article from the New York Times, if y’all are really interested.

Can I just go on record to say that American English desperately needs to have a plural you? One that doesn’t sound as if you’uns just jumped off the farm wagon, you’se aren’t mafia hit men hit people, y’all aren’t just from Miss’ippi, and you guys aren’t just hangin’ on the corner somewhere lookin’ for trouble… It’s actually all these regional English speakers who have come up with answers to this unwieldy problem.

I’m not ready to go back to thee or thy, and ye has been recently usurped by someone we don’t necessarily want to emulate; þe (pronounced ge) would require a redo of all our keyboards; the olde Gaelic ye aw sounds like we’re all horses; surely some of you lot can think of a nice easy word to resolve this terrible crisis of American speech? In the meantime, would you get me a glass of whine wine?

7 thoughts on “Yinz, y’all, or ye? Yes

  1. And don’t forget that in most (at least in the Romance languages) foreign languages, there is a formal AND a familiar form of “you”, in addition to singular and plural forms for each with specific rules for using familiar or form. So technically, you have to choose from 4 forms of the English word “you” when speaking in those languages. I guess in that respect, English DOES simplify things, but probably ONLY in that respect. :-)

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