We've all found ourselves in situations where we're greeted by "hey ladiiiies and gentlemen!" or "what's up guys?," or "you guys on a girls night out or are you ladies just hanging out?"
It's usually never meant to be offensive, yet parts of our everyday lexicon categorize us by gender, use the term "guys" to mean "everyone," or assume that we fit into a certain category.
Instead of bemoaning the current reality, I propose we join together to replace the usual suspects with a familiar and unbeatable alternative for second-person pronoun greetings.
Before you balk, thinking that word is only used by Southern Americans or that it makes you feel like you're in a John Wayne movie, I will say that I hear you. "Y'all" doesn't have the best reputation for being a refined use of language. I'm actually from Texas and have made a concerted effort to delete it from my vocabulary, tired of people constantly pointing out my accent, asking where I'm from, and following up with questions about biscuits, gravy, and George W. Bush (biscuits and gravy are amazing by the way).
But you know what? I'm getting over it. Instead of shying away from my roots because of other people's perceptions, I'm tapping into some of that true hospitality and claiming a word that's perfectly positioned to be something we all share.
If you're reticent, I get it, but y'all should stick with me and explore why it's such a perfect fit:
1. It literally includes ALL.
Of course we know that "y'all" is a contraction for "you" and "all." In one greeting we can safely and warmly include all?! Yes. Lately we've been hearing the term "y'all means all" especially for LGBTQ rights in the US (Beyoncé even got the T-shirt to show her support), and there's good reason for it.
2. Did we mention Beyoncé got the T-shirt?
3. It can be used for any quantity of people.
Some suggest the use of "everyone" -- but it's weird to say "hey everyone" if there are only two people. "Y'all" is just right for small groups without making you feel like a presenter about to showcase your PowerPoint slides, but is also seamless for bigger crowds.
4. Everyone is not your 'friend' (yet).
When people I don't know use the greeting "hey friend!" my forehead crinkles and I take an imperceptible step back, maintaining eye contact. It's too intimate for a first, or even third encounter. "Y'all" is friendly but doesn't assume friendship. Therefore suitable for any level of familiarity without creeping people out.
5. It's appropriate for all ages.
When greeting a group of children, you probably won't say "hey folks!" It's too...folksy. Evoking visions of 12 string guitars and vegan chili, which are great things but not relatable to 3-year-olds. Conversely, older adults may take offense to the term "folks" and ask what you mean by that. And if either the tots or seniors ask what this "y'all" is all about, you have a chance for new converts!
6. It's promotes both inclusivity and simplicity.
As previously mentioned, the use of gendered greetings can be problematic, inaccurate, and hurtful. So instead of keeping words like "ladies/gents/guys/gals" in your back pocket and wondering when to use them, you can throw those greetings out altogether! Replace with one simple and inclusive word that you can fit easily into your pocket and have room for other things like (if you're me) beef jerky and lucky coins.
7. It has a history of being used in different cultures.
Fay beyond the borders of North America, dialect researchers posit that "y'all" has roots in Scotland over four centuries ago, and has spread in various ways to other parts of the world. This exposes the myth of it belonging to just one group of people or geographic location, and unlike my appendix, has survived for a reason!
8. If it makes us uncomfortable, that's okay.
Integrating different words into everyday use can feel odd. I've grown accustomed to saying "hey guys!" a hundred times a day for the past few decades. New terms sit strangely in our mouth, making us self-conscious that people will point out our difference. Okay. Call it practice for life, call it mental gymnastics, call it feeling momentarily awkward in order for others to feel more included. If some people are comfortable all of the time, then some people are uncomfortable all of the time. When we're not as concerned about ourselves, we should be okay with being uncomfortable some of the time.
9. It's fun!
Here's the thing -- why the heck not? What's the harm in trying it out? Start dropping it in at parties, at the water cooler, and sure, even in your PowerPoint presentations. If we're all in this together, it'll soon become boring and familiar, which will be great, but in the meantime you can say you were on the ground floor of the Y'all Movement!
10. One step for y'all. One giant leap for all y'all.
In all seriousness, we're (slowly) becoming more aware that certain parts of the English language aren't expansive enough to describe everyone. We may or may not encounter these words as problems -- I have the luxury of being able to identify with how most people greet me. But I see the very real struggle of so many people to be included and to not be seen as shit-disturbers just because they want to be addressed correctly. I have a lot to learn, and I hope I never feel like I've arrived. There are lots of great resources that address inclusive language on many topics including and beyond gender; this is one contribution to an already vibrant and much needed dialogue.
One more step, however small, towards a greater awareness of language, how we use it, and how it affects everyone -- family, folks, friends, ALL.
Will y'all join me?
- Pam Rocker
Check out Pam at pamrocker.com