Herewith the kinds of musings that can occur when one has too much time on one’s hands. I got to thinking about how most of the languages in the world have two forms of the word “you”—one formal and polite as when addressing a superior, or in addressing more than one person; the other familiar– as when addressing a close friend, a child or a subordinate. So in French its “TU” for kids, lovers and subordinates and VOUS for strangers, your boss and, somewhat incongruously, waiters in bars and restaurants. Also for some reason God is referred to in the familiar as in sanctificetur nomen tuum (Latin: Thy will be done). And so it is that we have the tu-vous phenomenon around the world or as linguistic scholars refer to it—T-V. In German it’s du and Sie or ihr, in Italian its tu and lei, in Spain it’s tu and usted, in Czech its ty and vy and in Welsh it’s ti and chi.
Only in English do we get YOU across the board—singular, plural, superior, subordinate, Her Majesty the Queen, Donald Trump, Daffy Duck—it doesn’t matter—it’s all YOU. Except, if you think about it—the northeastern United states—specifically Brooklyn and Boston, where one still might hear the expression YOUSE. Joe Pesci says YOUSE, Leo Gorcy said YOUSE as a Bowery Boy. Could it be that an expression that is considered low class and vulgar needs to be viewed in an entirely new light, that the speaker is in effect trying to bend the English language to European norms of etiquette? That the person seen as a lout is actually exercising a form of cultural superiority over the intelligentsia? According to the Urban Dictionary YOUSE has a very legitimate origin in Britain—“ It is said that when deer hunting took place in Parkgate and the surrounding area, the working parties would greet the hunters/gentlemen with ‘Good morning Sir’ and were greeted back with ‘And to you, Sir’ or vice versa or possibly even just between the hunters/gentlemen. Again, the supposition is that the combination of the two words ‘You, Sir’ formed what is still used today,”
And what about the largely Southern US term, Y’ALL? It is definitely a way of pluralising the word ‘you,’ but one can also hear it used when a person is addressing a person in authority; and indeed no less a journal than the Atlantic Monthly published an article last year recommending broader use of Y’all. “Teach it in schools across the country. Mouth it to babies. Put it on end-of-grade tests. With respect to “youse,” “yinz,” and “you-uns,” its lesser-known cousins, “y’all” is the most widely practiced of the options and could be the easiest to implement.”
Something for y’all to think about.