Old Professor

Gud Grammer

By The Old Professor

I was performing the country song, “If My Nose Was Runnin’ Money.” As I warbled “If my nose was runnin’ money, I’d spend it all on you.” my over-educated cortex substituted “were” for ”was.” I made it subjunctive. But, folks, there ain’t no subjunctive in country music. The best line in the song is “. . . if my nose was runnin’ money, but it’s not.”

My school instruction in English was excellent. I know grammar pretty good. But I have learned to follow the rules the way many follow the speed limit, often but not slavishly. And I use conjunctions to begin sentences. (Forgive me Ms. Nesbitt.) Incomplete sentences too. (My apologies Miss King.) I sprinkle in – dashes – and (parentheses) indiscriminately. (Mea culpa Miss Bartell.)

Comma placement, can puzzle me. I do have a fondness for: colons, but eschew the colonoscopy. I use “ain’t” and others ruralisms as if they is kirect.

Salvation is supposed to come from software auto-correcting. But it don’t. Recently I tried to tell friends we were visiting at Niagara-On-The-Lake, but the computer made it Viagra-On-The-Lake. Could boost tourism. Everyone has examples of corrections that weren’t. An anonymous poem says:

I have a spelling checker.
It came with my pea sea.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Of particular interest is the second person plural pronoun. The single person is “you,” but the second person according to the grammar elite is also “you.” This is very confusing. How are my hearers to know if I am referring to one or all, if the same word can mean both?

When I arrived in southern USA the college basketball cheer was “Git the ball, you all.” Made sense. A team is plural. The common form of “you all” is “y’all.” There are various notions about the origins of the term. Apparently Scotch-Irish immigrants had a term “ye aw” that could have morphed into “y’all.” Others attribute it to Gullah or Caribbean Creole. There are competing spellings: “y’all” is most common, but “ya’ll,” “yall,” “yo-all,” and “yawl” occur. The latter must be very confusing for yachtsmen. Interestingly, “y’all” also occurs in Southern Africa Indian dialects and can be heard in St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Newfoundland and Labrador. For emphasis “All ya’ll” is sometime used, and it rhymes.

There are alternatives. Traditionally “ye” as in “ye of little faith” worked. But it vanished along with the King James standard. “Yinz” is used in Western Pennsylvania and Pittsburg as well other parts of the Appalachians. It is thought to come from “you ones” or “yous ones” in Ulster. Another form is “you uns.” In Canada’s Atlantic provinces it can be simply “yous.”

In England I once heard a speaker at an academic meeting refer to the audience as “you lot.” More common in the U.S. is “youse guys” as in New Joisey or “you guys.” The professoress takes umbrage at “you guys” especially from female servers, who, pre-correctness, we used to call “waitresses.” They ask charmingly, “What do you guys want?” My wife regards “guy” as gender specific. I would substitute “you folks,” but then I’m a stuffy professor.

What are we to use as the proper second per- son plural? The experts are wrong. “You” as plural isn’t distinguishable from “you” as singular. Confusion is inevitable. While Congress wastes its time not acting on nuclear war, tax reform, health care, climate change, and a plethora of other topics, it leaves this vitally important issue unattended to. (Forgive the prep at the end of the sentence Miss Nolan.)

Won’t y’all, youse guys, you lot, and yinx, join me in a crusade to enact a new second per- son plural pronoun? Send contributions to the Old Professor.

Fomented by David H. Smith, Ph.D. retired professor.