Private: Y’all versus you guys

To address two or more people informally, both of my parents say, “y’all.”

When I was a toddler in Texas I did, too, but then we moved to Miami. Down there everybody says, “you guys.” You go around saying, “y’all,” and some boy’s likely to kick you and pull up your skirt on the playground. So I picked up at the preferred expression at school.

One afternoon when I was eight or so I kept calling my sister and her friend “you guys” as we played a game with my dad. This didn’t comport with Dad’s view of his daughters as genteel Southern ladies, and he told me to stop.

“But everybody says it,” I said.

“Not everybody,” he said. “I don’t, and now you don’t either. You say y’all.”

I agreed. But a few minutes later I forgot and said “you guys” again. Even after he warned me again, I couldn’t stop. It was habit.

Deciding I was being obstinate, he spanked me.

According to that Harvard dialect quiz that was going around last year, ‘you guys’ is used by more than 42% of Americans “to address a group of two or more people.” “Y’all” is used by only 14%. (Via Abrasion Magazine.)

I felt so vindicated by these results when I happened upon them this afternoon that I was tempted to call my dad and debate the finer points of usage some twenty-seven years later.

Instead I called my sister and told her about the time that, at age five, I took Dimetane for a cold and it made me hyperactive. I dragged half of my furniture into the hallway in the middle of the night informed my parents that I was moving out. The next day, Dad tried to discipline me, and I bit him on the nose.

It’s probably not a healthy sign that this memory still thrills me.