Monday, February 11, 2013

It's not 'y'all,' you stupid Yankees

Alden Ehrenreich and
Alice Englert in
"Beautiful Creatures."
I have often been told I'll never be a true son of the South, though I've lived in North Carolina for 39 of the last 42 years. But I get defensive when Hollywood clings to the same stupid stereotypes over and over.

"Beautiful Creatures," which opens Friday, has the usual depictions of life in a small South Carolina town: the banning of "To Kill a Mockingbird" from the high school library, the idea that anyone who wants to go to an out-of-state college is a bit of a freak, bible-thumping by a woman who accuses someone of being a "liberal Satanist." (I guess there are no conservative Satanists.)

But the final thing that set my teeth on edge was hearing a Southern boy ask a Southern girl -- with nobody else around -- "Are y'all gonna go?" (Or something to that effect.) Now, "y'all" has a place in speech: It denotes second person plural, and I use it myself. But nobody uses it one-on-one, and directors based in New York and Los Angeles haven't bothered to learn that.

Directors wouldn't film in Paris and set the Eiffel Tower on the wrong bank of the Seine. They wouldn't shoot in London and give all the characters Irish accents. But the American South? Who can be bothered to figure out how we really speak and behave? A continuity person would straighten this out in a moment, but nobody in Hollywood cares.

I know the stereotype of the dumb Southerner still gets laughs in other parts of the country, though I last found it hilarious when I watched "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." at the age of 10. It's not on a par with the crueler stereotypes -- the cheap Jew, the shiftless African-American, the drunken Irishman -- but it makes my teeth grate nonetheless, because it's a constant indicator that the rest of the country needs some region on which to look down.

Filmmakers can still use "Southern" as a synonym for "backward" without bothering folks in America's cultural centers, so I know this won't change soon. I just wanted to share an observation with y'all. 

66 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you're beyond wrong here. I've lived my entire life in the South and constantly use and hear others use the word y'all on a daily basis

Anonymous said...

To clarify...even when used one on one. It's very common in Texas too

Computer Programming Southern Hillbilly said...

He was talking about the way it was used. I agree with you my about the negative thoughts about southerners and it is just the way it is. I just stay to my region (The South) and anything I find insulting I just brush it off. I am a southern man my family has been in the south for nearly 400 years and some longer (thousands) Native American. I am a computer programmer and find it funny when people think I'm stupid when I do something that would make most people's heads explode from being overwhelmed. It's okay I prove the stereotype wrong everyday and it's fun. SON OF THE SOUTH AND PROUD OF IT.

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I've ever commented on an article. I'm born and raised in Charlotte, college educated, and I use "y'all" all the time in conversation whether I'm speaking to one person or a group. This article missed its mark!

Anonymous said...

Just cause Y'all do it doesn't make it right, nor does it make Lawrence wrong.

Anonymous said...

Well Larry, based on these comments, i.e., they use y'all when speaking to only one other person (and possibly when speaking to themselves), the slow and stupid Hollywood types may actually have it right.

Anonymous said...

Not entirely true. Typically, when someone uses the word y'all in that context, the word "are" is omitted, or replaced with "er".

Y'all gonna go?
Er Y'all gonna go?

-A Climax, NC native who had cows growing up and now lives in the metropolis of Salisbury, NC.

Anonymous said...

Think it's time for the author of the article to pack his bags and leave town. Very poor reporting. He should investigate before writing a article that looks like a 3rd grader wrote it

Anonymous said...

Lawrence: Do you feel better now that you've gotten that little rant off your chest? I truly hope so; this cost me a couple of minutes of my life that were totally wasted that I'll never get back.

Anonymous said...

I think this article is ridiculous. there's no single, standard "correct" way to speak, whether in the south, northeast, west, or any other part of the US.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what y'all are talking about. Toppman is right on this as it's second person plural. If you use it any other way you are wrong and talk funny.

And I don't usually like Toppman because he judges films more on what he likes/doesn't like as opposed to judging the movie on its character.

Anonymous said...

Good article and great points. One thing hollywood doesn't get is that there are many different types of Southern accents. Piedmont, Lowcountry, South GA, Texas, etc. But hey, just make the southerner in your lame script say y'all a lot and everyone will get it.

Ettolrahc said...

I am just glad they got our Tryon and Trade streets paved last year for us.

And not having our appliances on the front porch has been hard, but with our new teeth it has all been worth it.

Anonymous said...

It depends on the context - if the "you" refers to a group of people that the individual belongs to, then "y'all" is appropriate. If the "you" refers to the individual being addressed only, then it's not appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Lawrence the film was produced by Molly Smith, a southerner. I am pretty sure that her and other true southerns would be a better judge of the proper use of y'all. It may not have been used "correctly", but how often do you hear people who actually speak with a southern accent. Probably not to many from your NoDa neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

oh please, how many of us have to hear from southerners stuff like:

have went
amalence (ambulance)
Linkington (Lincolnton)
MassaTusitts
Ohiiiiiyah
Hawayu
Aaaagnuuur (aigner)
etc. etc. ad naseum

Anonymous said...

I like what Computer Programming Southern Hillbilly said. I am a native Charlottean, have a college education and I use "y'all" on a daily basis. I do not wake seeking anyone's approval in how I speak. I, too, am from the SOUTH and EXTREMELY PROUD of it. If people don't like the way we do things (or say things) around here, there's many doors awaiting their exit.

Anonymous said...

born and raised in NC...never heard one person say "are y'all" when asking ONE other person if he or she is going to do something singularly. And that thar is tha point he was tryin' to make!

Anonymous said...

last i checked people from LA aren't considered to be yankees. Are the people that worked on the movie ALL from the north? Did you check their credentials? It would be ashame if one or two of them happen to be from the south. The comment "you stupid Yankees", now let's look at that - replace Yankee w/ the word women. Would you say, "you stupid women"? Or Italian immigrants? Or black? profiling is profiling - get over yourself.

Anonymous said...

Y'all is singular. All y'all is plural. All y'all's is plural possessive.

Anonymous said...

Damn, this backwards hillbilly got off the wrong side of his trailer today....he call Californians Yankees....he sure is a product of Southern education...he doesn't even know his country own geographic!!!

Anonymous said...

Pointless article and a little incoherent.

Anonymous said...

Please refer to Rush Hour when Chris Tucker's character is teaching Jackie Chan's character to sing the song outside of car on the side of the street. He corrects Chan by saying "Not You All... Y'all!!" So someone in Hollywood got it, at least for that scene.

Anonymous said...

"American by birth, Southern by the Grace of God"

The Late Great Lewis Grizzard; Still miss his wit, humility, and an honest approach to everything Southern, and Yankee also!

Anonymous said...

The answer to the question is, y'all who?

nofeathers said...

Y'all is a contraction of YOU ALL. It is not meant to be used one on one!

Southern by Birth said...

Lewis Grizzard, William Faulkner, John Grisham, and Eudora Welty, all of the Southern greats, addressed this and variations on this theme in their works to a certain extent. Too bad most Southerners are still looked upon as being inbred drooling imbeciles who mate with their siblings, have outdoor plumbing, and the iqs of roadkill squirrels. Y'all can be plural, y'all can be singular, and it can also be used as a catch all phrase for any number in a group. Anybody who has ever survived a Southern childhood can attest to this fact. Some of us even managed to graduate beyond the sixth grade and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from accredited universities and colleges.

Anonymous said...

Mooresville native to Huntersville native:

How ya'll doing?

Fine, enurine?

You don't need an International Phonetic Alphabet to know it's all good as long as it's real.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 4:31 p.m. has it exactly right.

"Y'all" is second person singular.
"All y'all" is second person plural.

Anonymous said...

I think the boy referred to the girl and her friends or her family when he said y'all!! The author is thinking too much! Chill!

Oldilocks said...

Sorry, Mr. Toppman, but you are wrong.
As a few posters have already stated, "Y'all is singular. All y'all is plural. All y'all's is plural possessive."
To be fair, "y'all" CAN be either singular OR plural, depending upon the number of people one is addressing.
You can’t learn "southern" just by looking up words in a dictionary. To get to know real southern-speak requires something other than book-larnin’ -- one needs to fraternize with southerners outside of Charlotte (and other large southern cities). Y’all should try it, especially before trying to post as an authority on the subject.



Anonymous said...

All y'all, I's gonna axe the po-lease to looks into this.

Anonymous said...

Y'all is plural, plain and simple. Anybody sez otherwise is, unfortunately, incorrect.

Anonymous said...

Yankees have Harvard, Yale, Wellesley, etc. Hollywood does not equal Yankee, you stupid author. So embarrassed that I moved here, even though I love the expression "y'all."

Anonymous said...

I do believe the original author needs some help here:

Singular: y'all
Plural: all y'all

Anonymous said...

Did he just write "stupid Yankees".....WOW. Let's compare the school systems in the north vs the south....hmmmmmm, who's the dumb one's? Anyway, I'm not trying to stereotype the southerners as he did the northerners. I moved from NY to Charlotte for 2 years and very much loved the city and the people and witnessed firsthand the use of y'all on a daily basis. His manager should fire his ass for making such a comment. There's a lot of northerners in North and South Carolina.............

Anonymous said...

At least 50% of the people who posted here apparently never read the article. They just took offense.

Anonymous said...

I just say, "Y'all fixin to go".

Nameless said...

At full blooded, true southerner wouldn't give a darn about how others perceive him/her.

Anonymous said...

If you live here and need to complain about how we talk, our schools or anything else, please feel free to LEAVE. We didn't want to be over run by outsiders and would be happy to go back to polite southern town we were before we were invaded!

Unknown said...

Many of you clearly only read the headline and not the article. I mean, REALLY? He's DEFENDING the south and you're complaining about it? No good deed goes unpunished.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Y'all hush now. Beatin' a dead horse.

Anonymous said...

What a ridiculous article. I can't believe people get paid to write this garbage.

How is using y'all incorrectly (or correctly) so damaging? There are stereotypes about all parts of this country. What about the typical New Yorker who's family run business is just a front for the mafia. They only eat spaghetti and say 'yous guys'. Or the liberal hippie tree-hugger from the northwest? Or the cowboy from texas and the poor farmer in Iowa? I've never posted before but this article is pathetic.

Emily said...

To the author: my apologies for all these people commenting who have not the kindness to apologize for themselves. You're right. Y'all is not meant to be used for one person. The word "all" denotes more than one.

I have lived in the south my entire life. My brother owns chickens and I was once a barrel racer. (To establish my knowledge on the subject.)

But a person from the north would also know that you all means more than one.

The point is that Hollywood portrays the south without actually getting it right.

Anonymous said...

I'm from NC and I've NEVER heard anyone use the word "ya'll" when referring to just one person. This article is spot on.

Anonymous said...

I only read this article because the words " stupid Yankees " caught my attention. I am offended by that remark. I relocated here from the north back in the nineties and always thought of Southerners as good Christian people. Over the years I have learned different. They are the first to gossip behind someones back and then smile at them in church on Sunday.You may not like that Northerners are very up front with their opinions but at least they will say it to your face unlike the hypocrite from the south.

Anonymous said...

Lawrence, you may have jeopardized you Carolina card on that call. Every southern knows yall is both singular and plural, the true plural for is all yall.

Anonymous said...

The book is horribly written as well. I grew up in Charlotte, perhaps I just don't understand small town Carolina, North or South.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the north and south and can say with confidence that Y'all is NEVER PLURAL. If Yankees socialized with southerners a litle more they would know this. But many would rather just stick with their own kind and end up making ignorant inferences like the writer of the article is stating.

Anonymous said...

9:07 AM

I meant NEVER SINGULAR!

Anonymous said...

Gotta disagree with y'all.

"Y'all" is singular - "all y'all" is plural

Anonymous said...

Sheesh, nice headline, referring to any group like that is just as bad as saying how backwoods "the south". It isn't a word REGARDLESS...
Maybe I can see SOME NEWS in the news!

Anonymous said...

Wow, you can call us Yankees stupid, yet you get offended when "y'all" is used improperly? Pot, meet Kettle.

Anonymous said...

Y'all got it wrong, they are both plural.

Y'all is two or more and All y'all is an entire group. Y'all (and not ya'll) is a cantonation of you all, which by definition is plural otherwise it would just simply be 'you' without the all as the singular. And y'all call yourselves Southern, come on now!

CharlotteO Moon said...

I would like to thank Lawrence Toppman for his insightful article, as it has caused many to respond with a myriad of opinions.
The problem is, "y'all" is not even a word, as it is not grammatically correct. You would never use this created slang in an English course, nor would you write it on a term paper. It is simply another example of the southern society displaying its laziness with the English language. The rednecks clearly exhibit their inability to use syllables in their proper form, as they simply string words together. Using the made up sound. "y'all," truly has no defined meaning, for it is not a word in the English language. Please, learn how to properly pronounce the language and appreciate the words for its intended sound, as well as meaning.
Lawrence, make sure you let it be known that "y'all" is just some regional slang sound which has a regional meaning attached. The rest of the Globe does not recognize this garbled sound as a proper word.

Doyle Hargraves said...

If y'all don't shut up, I'm going to go out of my mind!

Lawrence Toppman said...

I see I'd better weigh in. When I first came to North Carolina in 1970, I was told repeatedly that "y'all" is NEVER used singularly, only plurally. One person even said, "That's how we separate Southerners from wannabes." I see from these comments that other folks' experiences have sometimes been different from mine. (Though I'll bet that's not why the singular "y'all" is used this way in the film. I'd bet it's still a lack of awareness.)

The larger point I'm making, however, is that people still use the South as an easy target for stereotypes and make movies about us based on other movies about us, more than the way we live, speak and think. Don't get too hung up on linguistics, y'all.

Lawrence Toppman said...

And a P.S.: The title of the post is meant to be a joke, though I see not everyone has read it that way. I do know that not everyone associated with the film is from the North, and I'm not out to "get" Yankees. I'm originally from the North, as are my parents (who stayed there) and brother (who didn't).

Oldilocks said...

CharlotteO Moon,

I don’t consider Mr. Toppman’s article insightful; however, I DO consider it “inciteful.”

Re: Using the made up sound. [sic] "y'all," truly has no defined meaning, for it is not a word in the English language.

"Y'all” is NOT a "made up sound." It is a contraction of the term "you all," a southern colloquialism as legitimate an expression as the northern "you guys," (which I use quite often when speaking informally).

Sorry, but in your supercilious quest to sound erudite, you succeeded only in displaying your ignorance.

Oldilocks said...

Thanks for posting, Larry. Had my Internet service not gone down, and my post got published nearer to the time I originally created it, the term "inciteful" would have been more appropriate. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I am sick of y'all trying to tell us WE don't speak plain. I have a BS in Biology and endured professors from around the world with such thick accents that it took several of us to combine our note taking skills and class recordings to get the gist of what was being taught each day. No matter who you are, if you aren't from where you live, you have a different dialect. Get over it or MOVE!

Anonymous said...

Looks like you are the product of a poor education yourself. Your English is terrible and you must have failed history as well. California was in the Union during the civil war, that makes them Yankees. Blue coats were Yankees no matter what state they are from. If a southerner joiner the Union army he would be a Yankee too.

If you want to talk geography, then only New Englanders would actually be Yankees if we're being technical. But it came to mean all northerners, even the midwestern states that were Union. Then it came to mean all Union states and troops, even Californians.

Our culture, our rules, you don't get to decide who we call Yankees.

Anonymous said...

The author is correct. Y'all is always plural, never singular unless you're Sandy from Spongebob Squarepants. It can be used one on one BUT ONLY if you're referring to that one person as part of a larger group. For instance, one on one you could ask a football player "y'all gonna win the game?" Now its not singular, it means the team. It still plural.

You would never ask a single person "what did y'all say to me?"...when y'all is used one on one it always refers to a plural.

Anonymous said...

The only thing you have managed to clearly exhibit is your own bigotry and your lack of tolerance for diversity.

zourtney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.