I have a standard comment for people who want to ask me questions. Only do so if you want to hear the answer. Please don't ask me a question hoping that I will tell you what you want to hear.
It's a pretty simple concept really. That concept got out of hand earlier this week. I was minding my own business when a person came up to me in the supermarket -- in the produce section -- and asked me for my opinion. A total stranger, who was in no way a part of the conversation, jumped in and before I knew what was happening, what started as a simple question soon turned into a full blown debate and ultimately spiraled downward into a classless argument, complete with regional slurs and name calling.
All the young lady wanted to know was where to put the apostrophe in the word "y'all." It was a pretty fair question. Most people realize that "y'all is an abbreviation of the words "you all" with the "o-u" left out. Therefore the apostrophe would follow the "y" to take the place of the omitted letters.
In the word "didn't," for instance, the apostrophe takes the place of the "o" in "not." "I didn't like the tone of your comment," or "I didn't appreciate being called a hillbilly."
I told you the whole thing spiraled downward.
The contraction is a pretty simple concept, really, compared to most of the rules that govern the English language. But a lot of people get it wrong, so the young lady who first broached the question is in pretty good company.
For instance, at Disney World's Ft. Wilderness campground they used to have a sign at the exit that read "Ya'll come back now." Note the apostrophe placement. It drove me crazy that the Disney folks would make such a glaring mistake. They produced "Song of the South," for goodness sake. They should have known better.
I have probably written half a dozen letters to the Disney people informing them of their egregious error. The last time I was at Ft. Wilderness, however, y'all was still misspelled.
But we were talking about this week's debate. One of the comments made was "It's not even a word so it doesn't matter how you spell it." Au contraire!
Y'all is a perfectly good word. It is a second person plural pronoun and a contraction, as we have already determined, for the phrase "you all," and always refers to two or more people, or -- as denoted by no lesser authority the Merriam-Webster -- "family, organization etc." And it dates back to 1631.
1631, y'all. That's almost 400 years. A lot of black-eyed peas and collard greens have been eaten since 1631 -- and for some highfalutin Yankee know-it-all to look down his highfalutin nose and call a genteel and extremely well-educated Southerner a hillbilly because he uses a perfectly good pronoun with regularity is not only insulting, it is also downright ignorant on the insulter's part -- bless his heart.
I feel the same way about the use of y'all as I feel toward those folks who insist you can't end a sentence with a preposition, which to quote Winston Churchill, among others, is "nonsense up with which I will not put."
Bear Bryant used the word "y'all" on a regular basis and they named an animal after him. Elvis said y'all, too. I heard him myself. If it's good enough for the Bear and the King, then it's good enough for me. But I was glad the whole discussion came up because it brought back warm memories of my eighth grade English teacher, Mr. J.T. McKay, and it's been way too long since I thought about him.
I used to think that Mr. McKay was really old when he taught me English at Porterdale School, but now, looking back on things, I'm not so sure. I used to think 50 was old, for instance, and now a 50-year-old is a relative spring chicken.
At any rate, Mr. McKay was tall and thin and had huge hands which he kept wrapped around what we called a yard stick before the introduction of the metric system made that term obsolete. I never saw him hit anyone with the yard stick but none of us were convinced that he wouldn't, which went a long way toward keeping us in line. Mr. McKay loved poetry and taught me to love poetry, too. I can still recite dozens of poems that I learned in Mr. McKay's eighth grade class.
When I took English from Rosemary Magill at UGA, she and I had many long discussions over the relative quality of some of those verses. "Little Boy Blue" comes to mind. Mrs. Magill didn't think much of that poem. Mr. McKay and I did. Mr. McKay also taught us the defense of the word, "y'all," which I already shared with you in a previous paragraph.
And for the record, I am a linthead -- not a hillbilly. And if you liked what I had to say about "y'all," just wait until we have the discussion about the word "ain't."