SoCS – 2/20/2016 – Ain’t

ain't

Ain’t is such a little word but it is used a lot, especially in Texas and the south. My high school English teacher was a real stickler for proper language. Mrs. Pyles hated the word ain’t with a passion. You were guaranteed a lower grade on a paper if you used ain’t, regardless how well the paper was written otherwise. She also didn’t take kindly to having it pointed out by our class smartass that ain’t was actually in the Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary in the library. She got a bit red-faced and said that she didn’t care what Mr. Webster had written, ain’t was not proper English.

Although ain’t was first used in 1749, it was considered the habitual speech of the less educated or uneducated. Today, ain’t is found throughout English-speaking countries in all regions and classes; it is one of the most pervasive non-standard terms in English. It is one of two negation features (the other being the double negative) that are known to appear in all non-standard English dialects. Ain’t is used throughout the United Kingdom and throughout the United States, with its geographical distribution increasing over time. In its geographical ubiquity, ain’t is to be contrasted with other folk usages such as y’all, which is confined to the South region of the United States.

It is the only contraction that can be used for any of eight word duos:

  • am not; are not; is not  [Example: It’s a free country, ain’t it?]
  • have not, has not  [Example: Those people ain’t got a clue]
  • do not; does not; did not   [Example: Her husband left and she ain’t got a clue how to pay bills.]

The following is verbatim from Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Usage Discussion of ain’t

Although widely disapproved as nonstandard and more common in the habitual speech of the less educated, ain’t in senses 1 and 2 is flourishing in American English. It is used in both speech and writing to catch attention and to gain emphasis <the wackiness of movies, once so deliciously amusing, ain’t funny anymore — Richard Schickel> <I am telling you—there ain’t going to be any blackmail — R. M. Nixon>. It is used especially in journalistic prose as part of a consistently informal style <the creative process ain’t easy — Mike Royko>. This informal ain’t is commonly distinguished from habitual ain’t by its frequent occurrence in fixed constructions and phrases <well—class it ain’t — Cleveland Amory> <for money? say it ain’t so, Jimmy! — Andy Rooney> <you ain’t seen nothing yet> <that ain’t hay> <two out of three ain’t bad> <if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it>. In fiction ain’t is used for purposes of characterization; in familiar correspondence it tends to be the mark of a warm personal friendship. It is also used for metrical reasons in popular songs <Ain’t She Sweet> <It Ain’t Necessarily So>. Our evidence shows British use to be much the same as American.

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Stream of Consciousness Saturday is hosted by Linda G Hill

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7 thoughts on “SoCS – 2/20/2016 – Ain’t

  1. As a former English teacher, I’m pro-ain’t depending on the context. As a character building colloquialism, I’m all for it. In a more formal academic argument, I would ask my past students to consider whether they felt their intended audience would be swayed by such a term, especially considering its past associations with a lack of intelligence.

    Is it fair that these kinds of terms are ruled “less appropriate” or their speakers “less intelligent”? Not really; language should be language, as long as it conveys the intended meaning. But the people who use–and judge–language are flawed, and their biases come through everywhere, even in the words they choose to use or ban.

    Another great topic from a thoughtful writer, Barb. No wonder I love visiting your blog so much! And that ain’t just blowin’ smoke!

    Liked by 1 person

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