I wrote an email recently that went to a number of people. It started “Dear y’all,” and I was struck anew by how glad I am to have absorbed this word into my vocabulary. When you live away from your home country, it’s always interesting to note the ways it changes you as time goes on: the foods you eat, the way your accent shifts (or doesn’t), words that enter or leave your vocabulary. I would never have imagined myself as someone who uses y’all, frequently and sincerely — but I do. And I think it’s one of the most useful words I’ve picked up in a long time.
Canadian English doesn’t have a lot of great options for addressing groups of people. There’s “you guys”, which is serviceable, but which is informal and somewhat clunky — and anyway, some women don’t like being called “guys” and so you run a risk of low-key offending. There’s “folks,” which my husband uses sometimes, but again, it’s pretty informal and doesn’t always suit. “People” sounds bossy. “Youse guys” sounds ridiculous (sorry, New York). “Ye” sounds very strange if you’re not a Newfoundler or Quaker. “You” is ambigious because it can be either singular or plural. And don’t even get me started on “yinz,” which is — amazingly — even more ridiculous than “youse guys” (sorry, Pittsburgh; I speak this truth in love).
Enter y’all, which might be the perfect second-person plural.
Y’all is adaptable: neither formal nor informal. Y’all is gender neutral. Y’all refers to two people with as much ease as it does to two thousand or two million. Y’all carries warm natural overtones of Southern hospitality. What a useful word!
We don’t plan on staying in the United States forever. At some point we’ll return to the Great White North with our American children, our relentlessly flattening/flattened vowels (cuppah cahffee, anyone?), the freedom of not using pennies, and the anticipatory joy of finally being able to find decent tea at any grocery store. And, of course, with the word y’all. It’s just so convenient; I hope y’all understand.