The most notable characteristic of the Southerner can be narrowed down to the use of one little word — y’all, the second person plural form of you. It’s you and all run together. This sleight of tongue makes a little word that defines an entire culture because no matter where in the world you go, the minute you let fly with a “Hey y’all!” everyone knows you’re from the South.
Personally, I’ve always objected to being addressed as you guys because I am not a guy. I’m a gal, but no one says you gals. My father-in-law does call me just plain gal quite frequently, which is endearing and sweet. But just as no one refers to me as hey buddy or hey man, so too should they not refer to me as part of you guys.
Down here we don’t have to worry about offending good ole boys or good ole girls with improper forms of address. Y’all is gender-neutral. Y’all is all-inclusive. Y‘all is friendly, familiar, homey. Y’all rolls off the tongue like a pat of butter on a hot biscuit.
Y’all can refer to part of a group (“Did y’all eat yet?”) or, when added to all, a whole entire group (“Did all y’all eat yet?”). There is even the plural possessive all y’all’s (“All y’all’s dinner will get cold if you don’t get to the table!”).
The most important thing to remember, however, is that y’all is always, always, always plural. No one in real life ever walked up to one lone person and said, “Hey! Are y’all new ’round these here parts? What’s y’all’s name?” Are you listening Hollywood movie-makers?
Y‘all does not imply ignorance. Some of our most educated and influential brethren have retained this little nugget from our vernacular and use it every day, in all sorts of public forums, because it’s just part of us. James Carville may smile and jokes his way through serious political commentary, but make no mistake y’all, he’s no country bumpkin. Bill Clinton isn’t either. And while Paula Deen may be dropping her r’s, drawling, and yucking it it up over a vat of gravy, she’s built an empire on y’all, literally and figuratively.
One little word. One little contraction. The essence of a whole culture. Ain’t that somethin’, y’all?