Y’all, About the Whole “You Guys” Thing…

A native Texan’s endorsement (and rediscovery) of the greatest pronoun in the English language

Illustration © Ross McCammon

Me and “y’all” go way back. I grew up in Dallas hearing a rich Texas vocabulary made even richer by thick Texas accents. My mom would order a “wat wan” with dinner, for example. As a kid I pronounced “cement” as “SEE-mint” and “umbrella” as “UM-brella.” (Sometimes I still do, involuntarily.) My linguistic heroes were people who added an extra syllable to one-syllable profanities, as in “DAY-um” and “SHEE-ut.” My grandfather said grace every Sunday like Boomhauer on King of the Hill.

Lord, [wordswordswordswordswords]

Amen!

And we put a little extra emphasis on the “y’all” any time a second-person plural pronoun was required in our everyday communications.

I said “y’all” all the time growing up.

But at some point, I stopped. I switched to “you guys.”

Y’all, I’m not proud of it.

My journey with “you guys” began in California, where I spent a couple weeks each year visiting my dad. As far as I was concerned, if it was happening in California it was cool. Apple Computers? Cool. Lack of mosquitoes? Cool. Driving over a mountain to get to a beach? Cool. Sweating in the stands at Candlestick only to absolutely freeze when the sun goes down? Cool.

No one said “y’all” in California. They said “you guys.” And I thought that was cool, too. Over the course of a year or two, I removed “y’all” from my vocabulary in order to seem less Texan and, I don’t know… more Californian? Years later when I moved to New York, “y’all” just wasn’t a part of my everyday speech.

Surprisingly, New York is where I picked it back up again.

Over the last couple years I’ve been hearing “y’all” more and more around here, especially at work. It was jarring at first, but now it makes perfect sense. There’s really no better way to refer to a group of coworkers. “You guys” is inherently gendered. I know it doesn’t offend everyone, but why use it when there’s such a perfect alternative, like “y’all”?

(There are other plural pronouns, of course: “you all,” “youse,” “you ‘uns,” “yins,” or even simply “you,” though anecdotally speaking, “y’all” seems most widespread.)

Hearing “y’all” from people I‘m pretty sure didn’t grow up saying it warms my heart every time. It suggests they know that making a minor adjustment to your vocabulary in the name of inclusion is obviously the right thing to do. Or maybe they think it’s just fun to say. Or maybe they don’t think about it all. Still, they’re making the right choice. It’s a useful, efficient word.

I was too quick to throw off the trappings of “y’all.” It was part of my story (bless my heart). That “y’all” ended up being a progressive alternative to a phrase I’d adopted in an attempt to seem more progressive is, as we say in Texas, sump’n else.

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Author, Works Well With Others: Crucial Skills in Business No One Ever Teaches You // writing weekly about creativity, work, and human behavior, in a useful way

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Ross McCammon

Ross McCammon

Author, Works Well With Others: Crucial Skills in Business No One Ever Teaches You // writing weekly about creativity, work, and human behavior, in a useful way

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