You guys, you all and Kingsley Amis

When we were living in Cambridge, two years ago, I was struck by the pervasiveness of you guys as a plural pronoun. It is not as if it was new to me: in my history of the language lectures I tell the students about the grammatical gap in the English pronoun system, with you serving as an all-purpose second person pronoun. Speakers themselves feel uncomfortable with this, and have come up with you all, youse and you guys (as well as other forms: I often hear myself say “you people” when addressing my students as a group).

Sir Kingsley Amis (wikipedia)

You guys I always thought to be an Americanism, but what about you all? I now think it might be an Americanism too, or that is at least what Kingsley Amis suggests in his novel I want it now (1968). Amis published (or rather, his publishers did after his death) a usage guide. The King’s English, and his novels are filled with linguistic comments of all sorts. He doesn’t appear to have liked American English much (nor, as this novel shows, did he like Greek food, the Dutch language, or perhaps anything outlandish), but his comment on you all I think is hilarious.

I want it now (Panther)

A minor character in the novel, who is depicted as looking like someone “out of a Western”,  is a frequent user of you all: “You-all got trouble there. Real bad trouble”  (p. 128). So much so, that Ronnie Appleyard, the main character, “speaking without any conscious thought and very fast, … said, ‘He-all may have been [i.e. to the South] for all I know but I-all never have and neither of us-all have ever been to this bloody place and now you-all must excuse me.'” (p. 131).

English humour at its best, and another example of the type of Amis’s linguistic comment which you find in almost all his novels, and which very likely eventually led to his usage guide. But did you all indeed arise in American English? Or was Amis wrong here?

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