images-1Hey, You Guys: a friendly discourse on the intracacies of the 2nd person plural: a digression, a detour, into the back roads of American grammar.images

It’s a problem! And it’s all because the English language has only one pronoun for both the second person singular and the second person plural: YOU! Other languages boast two pronouns for “you”. In the Romance languages the “you” first-person you is typically an intimate appelation, reserved for lovers and close friends, as in Et tu Brute´? (some friend!). Other languages boast not only two “you’s”, but feature both a masculine and feminine “you”. A “you” for boys and a “you” for girls. However, in English there’s only one “you”, no matter how many of “you” are out there, and no matter what gender “you” be.

As I say, it’s a problem. It’s confusing!

On a regional basis, English speakers have tried to address the “U-2” or “Double-U’s”issue. People, even Americans, aren’t as stupid as all that. They like to know how many “you’s” are out there. In the Bronx we used the plural form “yez”, as in “Are yez in or out?”, or “Are yez comin’ or not?”  Another helpful second-person plural variant, rooted in Brooklynese, is “youze”, as in “Youze got any problems with that?”

Perhaps the finest of the regional solutions to the “single/double you” quandary sees its roots in the Deep South where “y’all” still serves admirably as the plural for the second person. “Y’all come back soon” is surely music to the ears, especially if it’s pecan pie y’all’s be coming back for. But at least this plural “you” is clear. “Y’all” means more than one of “y’all”. One can immediately determine how many of “y’all” are being invited back. Actually, it’s all of y’all in this case. They better have a lot of pie.

But what has Bumbastories all bent out of shape is the “You guys” approach to the second person plural. It’s a fairly new manner of speech. It probably got its start with day-camp counselors and scout leaders saying things like “Hey you guys, quiet down now”, or  “You guys ready to play some dodgeball?” But then, like an insidious grammatical infection, “you guys” spread to moms and older siblings who began to pepper their admittedly bland verbage with random and assorted “you guys”, as in “OK, you guys, listen up”. Or “I don’t know about you guys, but I think….”

Perhaps it’s just the neutered “guys” thing that has me riled. I suppose it’s one of the negative side effects of the Women’s Liberation movement. After all “guys” used to be solely for guys; it was a masculine term. There were “Guys and Dolls”, and “guys nights out”. No longer. Guys is for everbody. Under the “guise” of sexual equality “guys” is in.

Well, so much for grammar and bad puns. “Y’all come back now!”

Advertisements