David Parker, Professor of History at Kennesaw State University in Northwest Georgia, writes another history blog, which is well worth reading if you’re interested in American history. Of linguistic interest is his post from last Christmas on the meaning, spelling, and history of that great American pronoun y’all (discussed here and here on LH). The OED’s first citation is from 1909; he antedated that by over half a century:

I came across a citation to the Southern Literary Messenger from 1858. The piece was written by “Mozis Addums,” penname of George William Bagby, one of the humorists of the mid-nineteenth century who thought spelling everything phonetically was funny. Mozis described the crowded conditions in the boarding house where he was living: “Packin uv pork in a meet house, which you should be keerful it don’t git hot at the bone, and prizin uv tobakker, which y’all’s Winstun nose how to do it, givs you a parshil idee, but only parshil.”

There’s a lot more (in his words, “More than y’all wanted to know about ‘y’all'”), so y’all head on over and enjoy!


  1. In Google Books you can find “The Graysons: A Story of Abraham Lincoln”, by Edward Eggleston, published 1887, the action of which is described as taking place “a lifetime ago”. It is a fictionalized account of Lincoln’s defense of “Duff” Armstrong in a murder trial which took place in 1858. On page 198, one Jake, who is from “North Kerliny”, states, “Jes y’all look at the case.” Though this doesn’t antedate Bagby, it would seem to indicate Eggleston perceived “y’all” to represent old Southern usage from much earlier in the century. Eggleston was born in Indiana in 1837.

  2. See the y’all page on Barry Popik’s site. He cites some later uses by Bagby and also gives examples from 1857, in Alfred W. Arrington’s novel The Rangers and Regulators of the Tanaha, or Life Among the Lawless: A Tale of the Republic of Texas.

  3. (Further down on the same page, Arrington’s novel is dated to 1856 by Wright American Fiction.)

  4. I thought that the title of this post was syntactically parallel to “Y’all scared” and was trying to figure out whether that meant I was preceding or being preceded.

  5. See Parker’s follow-up post.

  6. Google Books also lists Rangers and Regulators of the Tanaha as being published in 1856, but at this point has no scan of it available.
    Parker has a new post on his blog, entitled “Beat at my own game,” acknowledging that Arrington 1856/57 trumps Bagby 1858.

  7. Krishna Kumar says

    You might be a bit surprised to know that “y’all” is very commonly used in Mumbai (Bombay). Having learnt my English in small town India, I used to find it very odd to hear “y’all” used so often in Mumbai. A friend of mine and I used to comment on this weird similarity between Texas and Mumbai. The phrase has been in use in Mumbai (and to a lesser extent in Delhi) for at least the last thirty years or so, and hence is not an offshoot of excessive television viewing. It’s even said with a certain pride in the voice, as if it bore the stamp of a true Mumbaikar ….

  8. That’s extremely interesting — thanks!

  9. I know there are a few southerners here and there who claim that y’all can be singular, but, like you, I’ve never heard anyone who natively uses the word use it as a singular. To my ears, using it as a singular is an obvious marker for someone who doesn’t use the word natively and has no ear for how it’s actually used natively.

  10. Except when the singular is addressed as the representative of a group: “Have y’all got any eggs?” addressed to a store clerk is good Southern, but addressed to a housespouse it isn’t.

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