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Why is the word 'youse' included in the dictionary?
Sep 22, 2011
Why is the word youse included in the dictionary?
The dictionary is a complete record of Australian English that encompasses all aspects of the variety. So we have the formal words, the informal words, the taboo words, the derogatory words and the non-standard words. The criterion for selection for inclusion in the dictionary is evidence of currency in the language community. That said, the entry for 'youse' contains a great deal of information about how the language community views this word. It tells us that the word is colloquial, that is, more likely to turn up in the spoken rather than the written language, and that, though widely used, it is nevertheless regarded as not acceptable in correct speech and writing.
It is interesting to look at the history of youse. It seems to derive from Irish English and from there makes its way into both Australian and American English. Perhaps we inherit colonial attitudes towards the Irish which might explain the fierce resistance that this word encounters.
It is responding to an instinctively felt linguistic need. We used to distinguish singular from plural in our pronouns. We used to say thou for the singular and you for the plural, but thou was thought to be too intimate to be used by someone of lowly status addressing someone of higher status and in these circumstances a respectful you was used. So we distorted the grammar and arrived at a polite solution, but this was not without cost because there are situations where it is impossible, just from the words, to tell whether the you in question is one person or a group of people which is why we have created such constructions as you all or in American-speak, y'all, and you lot to give us a plural form. The Irish took the pronoun you and added -s to make a plural.
We do not think that youse will ever achieve linguistic respectability but we should understand where it is coming from, and we should certainly include it in the dictionary with the appropriate usage notes and language labels. Too often the people who are outraged by its inclusion react to the headword on the page without reading the whole entry.
Do you use youse? Let us know in the comments below.
Read some of our other articles about 'youse' and its place in Australian English.
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