Questions on Spelling


Question: Do you answer the questions of persons who misspell grammer?

Answer: Instantly. I figure they really need me.


Question (From an N.C. State undergraduate): I grew up in the South and have been known to say yal or ya'll quite frequently. Even though it is not correct English, it is a word that you can't live without down here. In the fifth grade, I asked my teacher how to spell it and she explained that since it was a contraction of you and all, the correct spelling is ya'll. Since then, however, I have frequently seen it spelled yal. Which one is the correct spelling?

Answer: My sources (Merriam Webster's Tenth Collegiate Dictionary and Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage) both have entries for you-all (permanently hyphenated). The usage dictionary goes on to note that the contraction for you-all is y'all. This confirms my instinct.

I don't understand your teacher's reasoning. The apostrophe in a contraction takes the place of missing letters. In contracting you-all to y'all, you take out the "ou-", so it seems logical to place the apostrophe not after the "a," but before it.


Question: After reading the question of the month on y'all, I wondered whether there is a writing text specifically fo' Southern writing. With all this interest in new English and old English, I feel we should preserve Southern writing mo' deliberately. I recently had to surf the Web to refresh my memory on the correct use of the adjective dag-gum, which I had forgotten. Does such a cotton-picking text exist?

Answer: I am not aware of any writing text specifically devoted to the preservation of Southern writing, although, of course, many Southern regionalisms are covered in depth in the standard references on regional American English. There are sociolinguistic texts devoted to the study of isolated speech communities. Walt Wolfram, a professor in the English Department at N.C. State, has recently published a volume describing the speech of the native residents of Okracoke Island. Itís called Hoi Toide on the Outer Banks.

I think you're on to something here. My advice is to stop whatever else you may be doing and devote the next decade to pursuing a Ph.D. in English. Your dissertation might be a French Academy-style volume of rules devoted to the preservation of Southern English. This, of course, is quite likely to render you unfit for all company and completely unemployable, but at least you will no longer have to search the Web for guidance on how to use the word dag-gum (or is it dad-gum?). Without assistance, you will naturally and effortlessly produce such sentences as "Who's the cotton-picking idiot who told me to get a dag-gum Ph.D.?"


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