How long has y’all been global? I just came upon two instances where y’all was used in a non-Southern specific context and it got me thinking. NPR’s Three Minute Fiction Facebook page used it. A new product from The Clorox Company used it on its Facebook page. Rappers and hip hop artists use it. Joe Biden used it a couple of weeks ago, and he’s from Scranton. Y’all is the pimento cheese and blue Mason jar of language. We are having a y’all moment right now. A y’all-geist, perhaps? No? Okay.
I’ve found it’s generally the first Southernism foreigners pick up. And by foreigners, I don’t mean Ohioans. I really mean people from foreign countries. Of course, we also force it on people. I pity the Japanese businessman who comes down here to put in a factory and is hounded by people from The Chamber of Commerce wanting him to say, “Hey, y’all!” at every ribbon cutting, meeting, and photo op. I have European friends who use y’all with impunity. To look at it spelled, it looks like it something your bubbe would have a strong opinion about. “This y’all is gornisht helfn! Much too tough! And it would kill you to use some salt?” Maybe this is why it’s going international. But y’all either comes naturally to people or it doesn’t. You sound really dorky when you try to use y’all to be folksy or to treat Southerners like we’re of a different country.
There is also some debate on how to spell the word correctly. I, like my buddies Mr. Faulker and Miz McCullers, like to spell it ya’ll, but I’ve found when I do that I get a lot of comments from people who did not grow up using the word telling me I spelled it wrong. I don’t actually know how you spell a made up word incorrectly, but yeah. Ya’ll means ya all–which is how we pronounce what we mean when we say ya’ll down here. Totally different from you all. And don’t get me started on all y’all or y’all all. Or even youins.
Y’all is all about emphasis. All of these things mean something different:
- “Y’ALL!! Y’ALL!!”
- “Y’all! Watch this!”
- “Y’all? Y’ALL??”
- “Y’all? Uh-uh.”
I guess it sounds folksy and therefore approachable and therefore will sell body lotion. In fact, if I were going to produce a skincare line I’d probably call it Y’all. I’d want it to fit a wide range of skin issues and that makes it sound like there’s something for everyone. I would also have packaging that used twine and slab fonts and lots of those disembodied pointing fingers, but that’s a discussion for another day.