Ever since starting the W.O.W. column, I've been getting frequent requests and suggestions by email for future "lessons," usually involving either someone's pet peeve or one that the reader is finding particularly difficult. One of Granny's gentle readers, Johanna from north Texas, writes, "I don't suppose you'll be doing an edition that includes Southern slang, will you? I would love for people to start spelling y'all correctly!"
W.O.W. to the rescue!
Our HOPE group took a fall field trip today to the South Texas Maize, and the big yellow sign that bade us goodbye as we were leaving said something like, "Ya'll hurry back, hear?" When I saw that, I knew it was time to tackle Johanna's pet peeve!
First, a reality check. Southern slang is just that--slang. It's far from being formal and accepted in all kinds of speaking and writing, but one thing it is: standardized. If you live outside the South or among people who don't appreciate Southern gentilities, you are by no means obliged to use the term "y'all." However, if you choose to use it in written form, Granny considers it mandatory that you punctuate it correctly. For those of you who are apostrophically challenged, here is the rationale.
Apostrophes have two main functions. (There are more, but they are relatively minor and we will not deal with them here.) The first is to show possession, as in "Please put this in Steven's bedroom." And the second is to "stand in" for letters that have been left out in a contracted form of two words, such as, "They'll be here at ten o'clock." The apostrophe here substitutes for the "wi" in "will." [You very observant readers will no doubt raise your hands to tell me that I should have bolded the word "o'clock" as well, since it is a rather odd and arcane contraction itself. But I digress.]
The term "y'all," friends, is a contraction. It combines the two words "you" and "all." Some of the more wordy of us Southerners still actually use the two words together instead of shortening them, since our drawls make it clear that we're in no hurry to say much of anything. But when we shorten the term to a contraction, we leave out the letters "ou" from "you" and replace them with an apostrophe, thus forming the revered second-person plural pronoun "y'all."
Now, some of our friends who are not residents of this part of the country but who appreciate the softness and informality of the term in spoken language (and even some, who like at the Maize, don't have a Southern proofreader) try to transfer it to written language as "ya'll" or even "yall." Actually, of the two misspellings I would prefer the second, for the same reason I occasionally look the other way about the absence of an apostrophe in "its." At least the writer of the second is not ignoring the fact that the apostrophe in the first completely ignores the presumed function of the punctuation. Placing the apostrophe after the "a" indicates, mistakenly, that the contraction is formed from some word beginning with "ya," then leaves out some mysterious letter or letters before finishing with, presumably, the last part of the word "all."
Enough. You get my drift. Bottom line: if you love our words, we would dearly love for you to borrow them. But when in Rome (TX), write as the Romans do.
Thanks, y'all. Johanna and I are now happy women.
Addendum: I was going to include another couple of our Southern idiosyncrasies, but I'm fixin' to go eat.