I occasionally surprise people by using the word “y’all” in both written and verbal communication. Don’t I know better? Am I being ironic?
Well, of course I’m aware that “y’all” isn’t Standard American English. And no, I’m not trying to be ironic. I use “y’all” because I really like it.
I’m originally from New Jersey, and although we moved to Florida when I was a child, I did not acquire any kind of southern accent. (It helped that most of my neighbors were transplanted Yankees of one kind or another.) I abhorred most southernisms I encountered and deliberately refrained from using most of them.
But “y’all” is the perfect solution to an ambiguous third person plural. “What are you doing?” could refer to one or more people. “What are y’all doing?” is unambiguously plural. And if you need to indicate a large group, or emphasize group inclusion, “all y’all” rolls right off the tongue.
Maybe if I’d grown up elsewhere, I’d feel the same about “yinz,” or “youse,” or “you ‘uns.” But I’ll stick with “y’all.”