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Come into the parlor

Since I solicited suggestions for a collective noun to identify the readership of this blog, the word parlor is the term that has gotten the most traction.

I had thought at one point that snuggery might be a good term. But now that the world has grown so damnably virtuous that one can no longer go to a pub for a pipe and a pint, the luster of the word is diminished. But we could repair to the parlor for Madeira and walnuts.

The word parlor (parlour for Commonwealth readers) derives ultimately from the French parler, to talk. As a noun, parloir was the name for the room in convents and monasteries where visitors could be received. It developed into the sense of a room for intimate conversations and the room in the house in which visitors could be received formally. (Also the room in the house where a body would be laid out for viewing before a funeral.)

The parlor in my grandparents’ farmhouse in Fleming County, Kentucky, was the room where I practiced on the old upright piano as a child, one of the rooms where I spent hours stretched out reading on a sofa, the room in which my first wife and I were married. It’s a term with a lot of personal associations.

So I am leaning in that direction myself, though I still think that this is something for the readership to determine. Over the weekend I checked an analytical program that collects metrics for this blog (Yes, we saw what you did; we know who you are) and discovered that in the past year there are more than 5,000 of you who have viewed pages here more than 200 times each. If you are going to be that loyal, you deserve a voice in what you are called.

Incidentally, I appear to have disconcerted at least one of you by saying that “what y’all decide is not up to me,” provoking the comment “John McIntyre said, ‘Y’all’?” Coincidentally, my eminent colleague Dan Puckett at the San Antonio Express-News posted a comment on Facebook: “Dan is an emphatic proponent of ‘y'all’: It disambiguates, y'all.” I asked how he stands on the plural, all y’all. He answered that all is merely intensive, since y’all is already plural.

We may have to call Language Log in on this one, or even, in an extremity, Southerners, because I have heard y’all used in direct address to a single person. So either y’all is an error when used in the singular, or it is, like you, singular or plural in context, which might make all y’all a kind of hyperplural.




Posted by John McIntyre at 1:31 PM | | Comments (18)


I consider myself a quasi-Southerner: I was born and raised in the South, but my parents were both Yankees (carpetbaggers). Yes, y'all is used in the singular -- but really, who cares? We Southerners don't give a rip about your Yankee rules nohow! On the subject of parlour, don't you think that dates us a bit? I like "the Inklings," or maybe "the Red Inklings," but then people would think we're Communists...

As a Southerner, I maintain that y'all should only be used in the plural sense. It is, after all, a contraction of you all.

I hope you might speak out on the the hideous habit some have of writing "ya'll" instead of "y'all" which induces a shudder in me each time I see it.

PS - John McIntyre is on Facebook?

On Facebook indeed, along with more than 360 people who are oddly willing to be publicly associated with me.

Y'all may indeed be used as both a singular and plural pronoun. If used to address a single person, you would then pluralize it as all y'all. Though I also agree with your colleague that the "all" may be used as an intensifier.

I am a displaced Texan, and I shudder every time I hear "you guys," or worse---you guys's, pronounced you guyses. Horrors!

Incidentally, in high school Spanish class, we used to conjugate the vosotros verb form as y'all. Why would you say you plural when a less awkward term already exists?

I'm most definitely not a Southerner--I live in Northern Virginia--but I feel that "y'all' does fill a morphological void. All other English personal pronouns have a singular and a plural form, but the singular form of the second person went out of fashion when English speakers became too polite to use it in addressing anyone other than the Deity.

"Y'all," it must be conceded, is more acceptable than other attempts to fashion an unambiguously plural second person pronoun, such as "youse," or the masculine form I grew used to hearing in the Army, "youse mens."

I don't know which "south" the previous commenters are from, but here in Georgia "y'all" is strictly a plural. Only Yankee screenwriters use it as a singular.

I can't think of any time I've heard a native speaker use singular "y'all." Doesn't mean it never happens, but I'd like to see more real-life examples.

I'm with Dan on the "all y'all" front. English does lots of emphatic reduplicative stuff ("little tiny" comes to mind, because it's in the stack of stuff about the public misinterpretation of grammar). But plurals aren't always all-inclusive anyway; you can address part of a group with "y'all" or all of it with "all y'all."

I agree both with the point that "y'all" should be used as a plural and with the point that it's useful, er, that it fills a morphological void.

And I like the fact that when one needs to use the possessive form, it has two apostrophes: "y'all's books."

Incidentally, here is how the term "y'all's" is described in Wiktionary: (nonstandard, regional, US, intentionally incorrect). I get that it is nonstandard and regional, but "intentionally incorrect"? Does anyone understand what that means?

Facebook wouldn't let me find you as How do we friend you?

[JEM: Try]

From years spent in Texas as a non-native, I can assure you that "y'all" gets used as a singular. Interestingly enough, it's analogous to "vous" in that it's used with people you don't know well or are indicating respect for. If I had a buck for every time a student addressed me -- just me, no one else in the room -- as "y'all," well, I might not be rich, but I'd have a nice pile of cash.

"Commonwealth" ? for 'our'

Then be careful with labour/labor
in political party sense in
And 'savior' in Canadian Press Style
bookese in Canuckistan.

There are always exceptions for
some patterns.

I grew up in the North, but the rule I've observed here in the South is that when you're greeting one person you say "Hey", but when greeting a group you say "Hey y'all". So y'all must be plural.

When I was studying German, which has two separate forms for the 2nd person plural – formal (Sie) and familiar (Ihr) – my teacher explained that Ihr was like the Southern y'all. Which leads me to ask, do Southerners, in addition to using y'all to address a group of, say, friends or children, also use a plural you to show deference or respect (e.g. when addressing a group of one's professors) or to indicate emotional distance (addressing a group of strangers)?

Is it perhaps like the German "sie/Sie"?

When you cap it, it is informal plural; when it's lower-case, it's formal singular, direct address.

It just happens to be the same letters.

"intentionally incorrect"? Does anyone understand what that means?

I think it means that the people who use it, recognize it for what it is--slang, informal. And they are using it deliberately to achieve that mood.

I was just on the phone w/ someone and said "pitcher" for "picture" on purpose. I was being goofy.

Folks using "y'all" aren't being deliberately goofy, but they are being deliberately colloquial.

Growing up in Tennessee, I never heard "y'all" used in the singular, except for when some visiting Yankee was trying to be funny. I checked with my parents back home and they agree: it's always plural.

I think the formal equivalent is a carefully enunciated "you-all."

"I think it means that the people who use it, recognize it for what it is--slang, informal. And they are using it deliberately to achieve that mood."

Talley Sue, I'm not sure this is correct. I use "y'all," but I rarely think about it, and if I did, I wouldn't describe it as "incorrect." It's the second person plural, is all. It's a regionalism, as noted, but in the region it's perfectly correct.

I agree that in your example "pitcher" for "picture" is "intentionally incorrect," but I don't think that applies to "y'all" for the vast majority of people who use it.

Y'all is plural. Some non-southerners, observing a native using the term when speaking to only one person, often develop the belief that it can also be singular. This is a mis-interpretation. What they are witnessing is the speaker using y'all to imply plurality. "Y'all come by later for some tea" is an invitation to the person being spoken to and the rest of his or her family.
As a Texan located on the Delmarva peninsula for many years I was painfully aware of but unwilling to abandon y'all because there was no equivalent (unless you accept the abominable "you'uns," a term favored by one college roommate).

Thank you, April! I've been puzzling over when anyone would have heard a self-respecting Southerner using "y'all" in the singular. (I'm with the many other posters here who say it doesn't happen, folks.) But your explanation makes perfect sense. Mystery solved!

I'm personally a big fan of the word (that and barbeque are just about the only things from my native TN that I'll admit to liking much). It's really quite an elegant way of filling that morphological void that one of the other posters mentioned.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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