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How Yawl?

There appears to be a misconception amongst Americans (and many non-Americans) that the phrase "y'all", as employed by most (if not all) of the residents of the Deep South of the United States of America, is but a simple contraction of "you all". Most (if not all) of the very same Deep South residents also believe this to be the case.

There is, in fact, no such phrase as "y'all". It seems that the noble colonists now resident in the US of A, and particularly those in the Deep South, have been labouring under a misapprehension for many, many years.

The word in question is actually "yawl" and refers to a small fishing vessel of a type much used off the coast of New Orleans.

Many years ago a local New Orleans fisherman met up with one of his colleagues as they were on their way to work one morning. Knowing that his friend's boat had been giving problems, the one politely enquired of the other "How is your yawl?". The response was, of course, "My yawl is fine, thank you. How is your yawl?". This became something of a ritualistic greeting between the two friends. In fact it came to be used more as a general enquiry of each other's health, rather than of that of their vessels. Further, its use very soon spread to their friends and acquaintances, and then of course to the local populace.

However, partly because of the alliterative nature of the phrase "your yawl", and partly because of the strange, almost unintelligible accent which had by that time developed in the Deep South, the exchange very soon became contracted to "How yawl?" - triggering the Pavlovian response "I'm good. How yawl?". (Incidentally, this contraction, as practiced by residents of the Deep South, is known to linguistic experts as "Drawling the Yawl".) Visiting foreigners from New York, upon hearing this exchange, wrongly interpreted the "yawl" portion to mean "you all" or "y'all".

So there you have it.

Yawl have a good day.

Copyright 2001  Barry Downs

By way of explanation, the above piece was written in response to the following email to Eric Shackle regarding one of the July 2001 articles in his eBook "Life Begins At 80 ... On The Internet":-

Mr. Shackle,

I must inquire as to whether BOSTON'S APOSTROPHE MAN  is doing his best to correct the problem of "Y'all." Both Yankees and Southerners (I am ashamed to say) consistently punctuate the contraction for "YOU ALL" incorrectly. They insist on writing/typing "Y'all" as "Ya'll." Obviously that makes no sense. All one must do is look at the contraction and which words it has contracted!

Would you please relay this message to BOSTON'S APOSTROPHE MAN and ask him to get right on this??

Thank you,
Karrie Rawson
Self-Appointed Head of Correct Punctuation for Y'all

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