Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for Yankee, Y'all

I'm a Yankee. No question about that one, folks. I'm a born-and-raised New England Yankee. I moved to what is officially the south over eight years ago. Even here in Northern Virginia, I hear people saying "Y'all". And I can't say "Y'all".

I've tried to get into it, but I just can't do it. It's not that it sounds dumb at all--where I come from it's "YA PAHK YA CAH OVAH THEYAH" so I have no leg to stand on--but I can't wrap my head around it. I feel like I'm doing something I shouldn't.

I've encountered this type of thing before. When I moved out of Massachusetts for the first time, I noticed some curious things about my home state. People were wary of folks with Massachusetts license plates. They call us "Massholes". And they think we talk funny. In Pennsylvania as a college freshman, I took a lot of flack for my accent. What they didn't know was that many of the folks back home had much thicker Mass accents than I did; I was trying to shed mine anyway to speak French more effectively.

And then they talked funny, too. They said things like, "Hey, John, we're going to the mall. You wanna come with?" I would stand there, waiting for the indirect object. With WHOM? With us? With me? With the football team? I guess it was implied. Just like "Is the cereal all?" That's another Pennsylvania question I heard. All WHAT? Turns out that it means "all GONE". I still can't use either of those phrases without feeling silly or doing it for comic effect.

[NOTE: It's bad enough that my brother deliberately mispronounced many Pennsylvania cities for that same reason. I just can't go back to the Philadelphia area and not laugh when I see the signs for "Conshohocken", which he used to pronounce "Cockanockin". A local shortening of the word, "Cunchy" sounds too dirty to say...I mean, it begins with C-U-N! But I digress.]

When I lived in New York City for a few years, I kind of had the same thing happen when it came to the accent. But New Yorkers are used to foreigners, and many of them are transplants themselves, so it wasn't a huge issue. My taste in sports teams was an entirely different kind of flying, altogether.

So let's return, y'all. Apparently there are usage rules with y'all that I was not aware of. "Y'all" sounds like it's supposed to be used on more than one person, but it's really not. It seems like it's directed at one person, or maybe perhaps at the maximum two people. It wasn't until a few months after I arrived that I found out that "all y'all" is the plural form of "y'all", used when speaking to a group of two people or more.

Nearly eight years have passed since my arrival in the South and I think overall I've assimilated pretty well. I know what sweet tea is. My tastes in barbecue have come a long way. Hell, I've even been to both Carolinas at one time or another. But I don't see "y'all" entering my vocabulary.

Anyway, hope y'all--unless more than one person is reading this screen and then it's "all y'all"--will tune in on Monday for my final post of the month with the letter "Z". Thanks for sticking it out with me.

Perhaps I should make sure all my Southern readers feel more comfortable and translate the paragraph above:

"Y'all come back now, y'hear?" ;)