Tag Archives: Y’all

Contraction Pains

I’ve been pondering the use of contractions in how I write conversation. I recently spent five weeks editing my five completed novels, adding quite a few contractions to make how my characters talk sound more natural.

We all run words together in conversation—you’ve, she’s, hadn’t, I’ve—and not doing so, by pronouncing each word separately can make what’s said sound formal and the speaker stiff and pedantic. In formal business writing, scientific papers and for legal matters, contractions are not used.

When reading, some contractions are easily processed by the brain, but writing them down can look clumsy. People commonly say there’re, but to my eyes, in print, it looks a bit odd and pronouncing it (even mentally in my reading voice) sounds like a small dog growling!

Contractions have altered through the centuries, and I commonly use an archaic example—tiswhich is it and is combined, as Cornish people regularly say it. When I lived in Atlanta, most people said y’all instead of you all.

Expressing colloquialisms too closely can look clumsy, words such as she’d’ve, shouldn’t’ve and mightn’t’ve. Such contractions might ease the flow of conversation, but in writing they become obstructive.

How do you handle contractions? I wonder how tightly edited they are, by editors at a literary agency or publisher—being added or taken away….

British & American English

This article in today’s Guardian fuels the notion that American and English people are separated by a common language.

I lived in Atlanta, Georgia for three years, so picked up some colloquialisms, such as Y’all, Copacetic (completely satisfactory), Fixin’ to, If I had my druthers (Given the choice, I’d rather not), All Get Out, as in the phrase “He was as funny as all get out” and Too big for his britches.

My favourite Southern expression was, “No shit, Sherlock,” meaning you’ve just stated something that’s totally obvious to most people.

My English accent was popular with women while seeming to make some men think I was behaving in a superior way, or that it was proof all English men were gay! I had a bumper sticker on my Chevrolet Camaro, that said CORNISH MEN DO THINGS DRECKLY. This caught people’s attention, and they asked me if it meant the same as the Southern expression Directly. It kind of does, but the rebellious Cornish meaning is more I’ll get around to it when I feel like it.”

Interested in language, I was startled to find how archaic words and pronunciations had been retained in America. I’d thought that Fall for Autumn, was an Americanism, but it’s what Brits used to say, as it derives from the Old English word ‘feallan’ meaning to fall or die—perfect for describing falling leaves.

Even more surprising to me, was how Americans had retained the French pronunciation of some words, which is why they said “Erb” for Herb, and that what an English person would pronounce as a Fill-it for a fillet of fish was said in the French way for filet—with an accent on the last syllable—Fil-ay. The spelling was also different.

I have an occasional American character in my Cornish Detective novels, an FBI agent, so I make sure that he speaks differently enough to be noticeable.

Separated by the pond, do you have any favourite American or British English expressions?