Did “Y’all” Actually Originate In The American South?

In America we like to assume that we invited everything, and I would say that goes at least double for people born and bred in the South – and “y’all” has always been their thing.

Has it really, though?

It turns out that it’s possible but not set in stone.

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Which is good, because at a time when Americans are turning their backs on a lot of traditionally Southern things (Confederate monuments, racism, evangelical Christianity, and misogyny, to name a few), y’all could have been next on the chopping block.

That said, the etymology of the word is more than a little murky. Some linguists believe it came from a Scots-Irish phrase – “ye aw,” while others suggest it was brought from Nigeria on slave ships and is the Igbo word for “you.”

The Oxford English Dictionary claims it first appeared in print in 1856, and has no sources outside of the American South.

Noted linguist Michael Montgomery says the early use of the word is “unknown in the British Isles.”

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That said, others have found more than a dozen examples of the word being used in dramatic or poetic works dating back to the 17th century, all published in London – and without the class and cultural connotations it would acquire later in America.

Once it did appear in America, though, northern publications like The New York Times were quick to turn their noses up at the “odd Southernism.”

As part of Southern dialect, the use of “y’all” has been seen as vulgar, low-class, uncultured, and uneducated – like something a “hillbilly redneck” would use.

A recent-ish article in the Journal of English Linguistics examined the word, though, and found that it was becoming common in America, due to the aforementioned gender issue and also that it’s being wholeheartedly embraced by pop culture.

The phrase that’s been popping up – “Y’all means all”- encompasses the heart of the movement.

Go ahead and embrace it. I’ve actually found it saves time, too, which is always a bonus in my book.