Controversial Y’all

There is something I have been battling with for a few months now that is affecting the way I work. It’s  “y’all.” I originate from a land where a group of people, a couple, and an establishment can all be addressed with the word “y’all.”  Now that I am working with people in Philadelphia, this is a foreign word that has been making me stick out like a sore thumb and in more serious instances it has been affecting how I work with people. I have been debating whether I should make a conscious effort to rid my vocabulary of this word or stay true to my roots and maintain the language I have always used.

The most recent instance where this loaded word showed its face was when I was working with a group of people who work in human resources for a healthcare system. There were twelve people participating in a focus group that Meghan, Matt, and I were running. Meghan is from Boston and Matt is from New Jersey so naturally I was the only one using “y’all” to address our group. The focus group went great and the participants were fantastic but something I was not expecting happened at the end.  The senior person who was in charge of the entire group of participants asked me where I was from. I’ll give you a play-by-play.

Senior Leader: “So you all know where we are from. Where are YOU (leaning towards me specifically) from.”

The rest of the group erupted into laughter as did my friends fellow facilitators. I turned beet red. I was so surprised at how this single word was so significant.  After a few people tried to guess where I was from I revealed I was in fact from Louisiana.  The last few minutes we spent gathering our materials and saying our goodbyes, the rooms was full of people freely using and over-using the word y’all.

I have tried to take “y’all” out of my vocabulary in the past but it creates a weird hiccup when I am in conversation.  I usually realize I am about to say “y’all” when I am mid-sentence and then I realize that I should have restructured the entire sentence from the beginning –  but now it’s too late.  In these instances I stumble and stammer while I try to find the right wordage and all the while the person I am engaged in serious conversation with thinks i have some wicked speech impediment. When it comes down to it, I think I will keep “y’all” in my vocabulary for now and I have two reasons beyond maintaining a natural flow during conversation.

First of all, I think it adds a certain human aspect to my work. A lot of the time I am engaging with people who are meeting me for the first time and I am asking them really personal things about their work. Things like whether or not they enjoy their work and what are some things they would like to improve. I think y’all is an informality that ads a certain level of humanization that helps encourage people to let down their guard. If I had to put a name to it I guess I would say it seems most people think that saying “y’all” is endearing.  At least in this neck of the woods.

Second of all I just like the word “y’all.”  Here is the only word that can stand on its own to address more than one person in the second-person tense.  What other word can do that?  The only a few alternatives I have found so far: “you all” which I am pretty sure is improper English and sounds horrible, “you guys” which is gender specific and I don’t feel right using that word to address females, and there is always the option to rearrange your sentence to proper English with “all of you.”  Still none of these unify the “you” you are addressing quite like the single word “y’all.”

In the end, I think I will be keeping the word “y’all” in my vocabulary.  It’s a part of who I am and even through I have not gotten used to people inquiring about where I am from, most people seem to be okay with hearing it.  It’s a good way for me to keep “me” in my work.


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