I luv youse all!
Australian ThinkingShift readers will probably recognise the popular slogan that Jeff Fenech, the Australian boxer, used to utter – “I luv youse all“. I think a variant was “I luv youse alls“. I cringed every time I heard it. My father (a New Zealander) used to say only Australians could talk this way and mangle the English language.
Today’s reflections were triggered by my encounters this week with people who seem to insist on using youse all the time, as though it’s the plural form of you. I’ve been met with “how are youse today?”; “do youse have the time?”; and the total shocker of “how’s youse all been?”.
But first – something I have to confess to: my grand aunt was an elocution teacher and we used to spend a lot of time together when I was growing up. Our favourite pastime was randomly opening up the dictionary and reading out aloud the words and their meanings (sad, but true). We’re also a family of Kiwis living over the ditch in Oz. Whenever I visited my uncles in Wellington they would snigger and say “you have the Australian twang“. As I was growing up, this was THE greatest insult. So my grand aunt would work extra hard to make sure the Aussie twang was knocked out of me. I’m sure there were secret squirrel family conferences in which my father told my grand aunt that no child of his would be scarred for life by the Aussie twang!
But for most of my life, I’ve been fairly relaxed about the fluidity of the English language. Quaint phrases my grandparents used now seem to belong to a bygone era: “he’s such a trick“; “she’s a card“; “pull the chain” (apparently, toilets used to have chains you pulled before the arrival of the flush button); “he’s a geebung” (never quite knew what this meant!). There was a lot of talk about “the Empire” in my family and I have vague memories of standing up while God Save the Queen was played in cinemas (which used to be called picture houses by my grandparents).
Don’t fret: this post isn’t a lament about the loss of our grand English language. But…I have to admit that in the last 2-3 years I’ve noticed a shoddy slip in how Australians speak. I don’t think I can point the finger of blame at Gen Y or carry on about how the internet with its ill-tempered, boisterous, oft-rambling language has been the cause of any decay I might be observing. Why? Because most of the people I encountered this week who liberally peppered their sentences with youse were in their 40s, 50s or older and also mangled their pronunciation of the following: secetry (for secretary); somethink (classic lazy Australian English for something); anyways (I suspect this has infiltrated Australian English via NYPD Blue where I heard it often); gunna (for going to).
I also noted a very distinct clipping of the end of words and the increasingly common thing for Australians: a rising intonation at the end of a sentence so it sounds like a question is being asked. I struggle every day not to fall into this bizarre speech pattern and I’m sure I often slip up.
So what’s happening here? Is youse the new plural for you and we’ll reserve you should the Queen drop in for high tea? We live in decadent times (didn’t Orwell moan about the English language and its decay back in the 1940s?). And so perhaps I should lighten up and stop looking for the female sheep when youse is muttered. I think I once read somewhere that youse is a word commonly used in Brooklyn US and spoken with that amazing Brooklyn accent- does anyone know if this is correct?
Nosing around some blogs the other day, I hyperventilated when I saw persay instead of per se and recipt instead of receipt. What the? So there’s some argument I guess in saying that any impoverishment of the English language is due to the many voices on the Internet. Where once the pristineness of the English language was jealously guarded by journalists and the publishing industry, prolixity, clumsiness and semi-literate mutterings is increasingly the norm in cyberspace.
And so we either embrace the surprise that is embodied in the colourful language of the internet and accept the unpretentiousness and crassness that is now Australian English; or we die fighting at the barricades defending the Queen’s English, which is often pompous and unable to make room for the cultural idioms that have crept into Australian English and define our identity.
Don’t fancy sacrificing myself at the barricades today – so here’s to Luven Youse All 🙂