Where Did The Phrase “y’all” Come From?


I feel like “y’all” is having a renaissance. If you think you know where it came from, though, you just might be shocked at its true origins.

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

The etymology of the word is more than somewhat murky. Some linguists think it came from a Scots-Irish phrase – “ye aw,” while others think it came from Nigeria on slave ships and is the Igbo word for “you.”

The Oxford English Dictionary declares it first emerged 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.”

There are people who have found more than enough 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 develop 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 the Southern dialect, the use of “y’all” has been seen as uncultured, and uneducated – like something a “hillbilly redneck” would say or use.

The latest article in the Journal of English Linguistics investigated the word, though, and discovered that it was becoming common in America, due to the aforementioned gender matter and also that it’s being completely taken up by pop culture.

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