Y’all is a Feminist Pronoun

FlorenceYall

The second-person pronoun is a contentious article of speech. Unlike many parts of the English language, it varies by region, by person, by situation. We don’t have the formal and informal “you” officially; there is no usted or vous equivalent in English. Nor is there a linguistic distinction between the singular and plural “you.” But there is a need, sometimes, to be more inclusive than just “you” as a second-person plural. That’s why there are slang-y replacements: The Old English-aping “Ye,” the pleasing but unpopular Appalachian “yinz,” the mobster-ish “youse,” the British “you lot,” and the universal “you guys.” (Carribean English has another great one, “allyuh.”) But by far the most inclusive, smooth-sounding, and useful one of these is “y’all.”

As an Alabamian, I have long argued for the superiority of “y’all.” To my ear, it just sounds better. It has the advantage of a single syllable. It seems friendlier than “you” or “youse” or “you guys.” It’s unpretentious. (A brilliant grad school pal of mine, a native Floridian, wrote an entire treatise in praise of “y’all” on a grammatical level, an argument convincing enough that I wish I could reproduce it here.)

But regional bias aside, “y’all” has one over “you guys:” It’s a feminist pronoun. It treats all genders equally. It is microaggression-free. No matter what your audience’s identity, “y’all” has you covered. It manages to be both friendly and respectful, to indicate an inclusiveness that the other popular options do not, and acknowledge a spectrum of genders that ranges beyond “you guys” or the hokier but still in-use “you guys and gals.” In a pinch, you can even use “y’all” to address a single person (unorthodox usage, and hotly contested, but still available) or make a more sweeping “all y’all.” Many college professors opt for “y’all” and “folks” when talking to a lecture hall, precisely thanks to these qualities. So if you want to address a crowd, large or small, in a way that’s both charming and gender-neutral, opt for “y’all.” Alright, y’all?

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4 COMMENTS

  1. YES! High fives to the author. I’ve done been sayin’ this for a while, and you nailed it. Also, up until I stopped pretending I could afford to keep going there, I was going to a fairly prestigious private college in the Midwest. My Latin prof did, indeed, use “y’all” to differentiate between the singular and plural “you” while translating. As a radical redneck feminist, I smile and wink at the proliferating use of y’all as the gender-neutral, plural-you pronoun of choice.

  2. NEVER. I’ve lived in nearly every region of the US at one point or another and I absolutely LOATHE the grating sound of “y’all”. Not to mention the obnoxious fake folksiness it has when some upper-middle-class college students from, like, Vermont are conspicuously replacing their speech with it (along with, well, “folks”). “You guys” is far more common among many regions and used almost always as a gender neutral. In fact, “guy” is relatively young as a word besides a first name (less than 200 yrs) and only became gendered in the middle of its life (originally just meant “fellow”). I’d argue for the phasing out of the gendered singular guy before the phasing out of what is widely considered gender neutral by most and much more natural in most regions than some deep south twang.

  3. Sorry – it’s neither feminine / feminist nor masculine – it’s very much gender neutral, and should be left that way. Adopting such a stance to try and ‘claim’ words and phrases is pointlessly narcissistic and does the feminist cause no help whatsoever. I am sorry if you feel my comments are not appropriate, but that does not change the truth – that a phrase which identifies neither male nor female cannot and should not be seen as promoting either gender.

  4. Do you think it is a feminist pronoun or a gender neutral pronoun. It’s seems to me that calling it a feminist pronoun is a bit ironic as feminism itself is not gender neutral terminology. Please do not think this comes from an antifeminist person. Rather it’s is from a person that supports the increased public lobbying of women to achieve equality. The gender neutral term for feminism would need to be about every humans being equals…just a thought

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