“The noble Brutus hath told y’all Caesar was ambitious?!”

I hereby withdraw my endorsement of the barbaric abuses of the English language represented by “y’all” and “you all,” and renounce them utterly, never again to consciously pass my lips.

I was just witness to an argument among the staff and patrons of my favorite red beans and rice place, where one waitress managed to convince almost everyone in the room (I find it gratifying that the person against whom she was arguing was the one black guy on the staff – take that, Charles Murray!) that “you” cannot serve as a second-personal plural. She even appealed to her allegedly expensive education for this. At one point, someone even insisted that “yous” is the correct usage!

I blame bastard constructions like “y’all” for this. By being just useful enough to become common (though not in the least necessary – if you can’t determine whether a pronoun is singular or plural from context, you need to read better), it has taken on an appearance of being the uniquely correct usage. This must be stopped.

Fortunately for everyone, who would have otherwise been convinced by the ignorant party and gone out into the world looking like idiots, I was in the room. When things got too grim, I stepped in with an appeal to the authority of the above-misquoted passage,* which, combined with the status of being a customer who tips well and the preternatural and dark powers of the British accent, brought about immediate and universal submission.

No, no, Mr. Nagin. I don’t need the keys to the city. I’m just happy to know that I’ve done a little bit of good in the world. If you ever need me again, just shine this umlat into the night sky.

* I think that this is actually the only correct way to make an argument about grammar and usage. Prescriptivism is just the rantings of fools who try and apply rules from Latin to the rest of us. Pure descriptivism licenses all sorts of barbarisms. But the middle ground – the “what would the phronimos do” approach to English – which looks to the virtuous exemplars of the language to determine what is correct – neither licenses vulgarism nor imposes pedantry. More briefly, if Shakespeare is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.


7 Responses to ““The noble Brutus hath told y’all Caesar was ambitious?!””

  1. Geneva Says:

    Despite happily supporting your footnote, I’m not sure that I can condone discarding a perfectly legitimate linguistic innovation just because somebody happens to be an idiot. People mangle non-standard dialects of English just as often as they mangle the standard, if not more often, since dialects tend to be much more fluid. It doesn’t do to blame non-standard grammar for someone’s lack of thought.

    Also, use of the dark powers of the British accent against Americans should be recognized as CHEATING, and so disallowed. Or, to balance it out, we should expose broader America to British accents other than Cockney and Upper-class Twit.

  2. Jeff Albert Says:

    “Or, to balance it out, we should expose broader America to British accents other than Cockney and Upper-class Twit.”

    Which one of those does Paul have?

  3. Jacob T. Levy Says:

    And, what, these people who couldn’t recognize the second-person plural in the first place recognized or believed that you were quoting Shakespeare accurately? How could a quotation they didn’t recognize add any authority compared with your just weighing in with your fancy-pants accent and proclaiming what the right answer was?

    (I’m trying to think of a widely-recognizable quote that would do the work, but I haven’t immediately come up with anything– because often the “you” in cultural quotations is addressed to the audience and could mean each watcher/listener/reader individually rather than them all taken collectively– or could be replaced by “one.” You can’t always get what you want, e.g.)

  4. Paul Gowder Says:

    Jacob, I am resourceful and always-prepared, like a boy scout or a ninja. I showed them on my iPhone, of course. Pervasive Internet ftw.

    Geneva, did Superman refrain from using x-ray vision on puny earthlings because it was cheating? No. The defense rests. Also, what Jeff said. (I love how my friends from all over the world and completely different social circles are coming together on this blog.)

  5. Geneva Says:

    Bah. Paul’s transatlantic accent (at least, I think it’s transatlantic … haven’t heard him speak in ages) fits into neither Cockney nor Upper-class Twit, but that’s beside the point. Playing into the stereotype that any sort of British accent confers higher intelligence/better education is an excellent strategy for putting the beat down on some hapless waitress, but it reinforces the same kind of fantastic ignorance already condemned. Plus, it lets the British think they’ve won! Well uncool.

  6. Paul Gowder Says:

    Geneva dearest, to hear me speak more often, you need only hie yourself back to the U.S.A. more often, and/or appear on Skype (which I confess I don’t do very much myself).

    No rock is too heavy to beat down upon “yous.”

  7. Uncommon Priors » A cautious defense of emoticons :-) Says:

    [...] contrast with my usual language-fascist inclinations, I often indulge in emoticons online. And I think there are two things to be said in their [...]

Leave a Comment