Thursday, January 23, 2014

Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby

by Allison Pang

Ain't ain't a word.

I'm sure most of us have been hit about the face and chest with that particular phrase since we were in grade school. And I supposed technically it isn't - but for a word that isn't a word, it's sure been around for a really long time.

And actually, as was pointed out earlier by James this week - there's a difference between writing grammatically perfect English...and writing how people actually talk. There was actually a lively discussion on one of the mailing lists I belong to last week about copyeditors and how sometimes they can be rather insistent on "fixing" dialogue - when it doesn't really need to be fixed.

On the other hand, saying you saw it written that way in a book before doesn't always get you any bonus points either. When I was in 1st grade I got yelled at for spelling "because" as "cuz" (or "coz"  - I can't remember now) - which yes, is horrifying, but I'd been reading the really old Raggedy Ann and Andy stories, and that's how the characters spoke. So I figured it was just fine for me to do the same, 'cuz I was six.

Alas. The teacher did not see it that way.

As a result, I've got this thing about being told that words aren't *really* words - because you only have to look at the words that are added to the dictionary each year to realize that sometimes it's not about grammatical perfection so much as the usage. (The vulgar tongue, as it were - I highly suggest picking up a copy of The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, btw - it's always fun to see how much (and how little) word usage has changed throughout the years.)

This year bitcoin, squee and twerk were added to the Oxford online dictionary, among others. I've been using squee for almost 8 years now in various conversation, but now it's legit. Who knew? Hell, yesterday I had a BYOD meeting at work (Bring Your Own Device) - and that's in the dictionary now too.

So the world spins and language changes. As it should.

You'll notice I didn't really talk that much about ain't - because quite frankly, when I see ain't, my 12 year old self jumps straight to 'taint and everything pretty much goes straight to hell from there. I didn't want to write a blog post about the 'taint. *cough*

1 comment:

  1. Got a chuckle out of the copywriter - dialog tapering bit. I'm always stumbling over critiques and copywriters trying to changes my characters' use of vernacular English.