The All-Purpose Jersey Pronoun
©2017, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.
A social media post by one of my all-time favorite singer/songwriters let loose a memory. She wrote, "2017 marks my 30th year in Nashville. I have come to love crape myrtle, I can spell (and pronounce) Demonbreun, and I know the plural of y'all."
To which I thought, "Wait, what's the plural of 'y'all'?" (I won't keep you in suspense: It's "all y'all.")
And then I thought of the All Purpose Jersey Pronoun. It's not nearly as pervasive as "y'all."
I was probably four or five. At the time, my Uncle Eddie, husband of my mother's sister Helenówho unfortunately passed away at a very young age leaving Eddie as a single fatherólived above a tavern a couple of blocks away from my family in Jersey City, New Jersey. This was not an unusual occurance in urban areas; whatever storefront business might have been on the first floor of a several-story building, there were usually apartments above it.
We did not visit Uncle Eddie very often even though he was close by. When we did, I was usually treated to a particular ice cream confection called Bon-Bons, which consisted of a small nugget of ice cream covered with chocolate, and was available at the "corner store" down the street.
But one time, he took me into the establishment above which he lived.
That's right... the bar.
Liquor laws were not nearly as strict as they are in the present day, and of course anyone with a good fake ID can tell you that enforcement remains, let us say, uneven, but in the late 1960s, bringing a four or five year old into a bar in Jersey was not unheard of.
After all, I wasn't going to have anything to drink, right?
The barstool was far too tall for me to mount by myself, so Uncle Eddie carefully propped me up on it. He then pushed it, and me, close enough to the bar that I could lean my elbows on it.
He waved to the bartender who gave a gesture of recognition and then walked over. Uncle Eddie introduced me as his nephew, and ordered a beer, probably a Ballantine ("Purity, Body, Flavor"), since that was a local product made just down the Pulaski Skyway in Newark and it was relatively inexpensive.
Then, he turned to me.
"So, George, do y's want a beer too?"
Hold it right there.
Ignore for a moment that a grown man just asked a four or five year old if he wanted a beer. This is Jersey, after all.
What is that alleged word between "do" and "want" in that question?
Do I mean, "y's"?
Why, yes, of course.
It's the All-Purpose Jersey Pronoun.
Y, apostrophe, S.
It's pronounced "yiz"or "yizz" depending on the speaker.
It is both singular and plural, masculine, feminine, or any combination thereof. It can refer to, in this case for example, one young child, or an entire group of indeterminate number.
You've never heard of it?
I'm not really surprised. Like I said, it's not nearly as pervasive as "y'all," or, for that matter, its much closer dialectical cousin, "youse,"which as youse might know, is largely considered to have its origins in Brooklyn.
Anyway, with that out of the way, let's return to the bar.
"No," Uncle Eddie corrected, "Y's probably want a Shirley Temple. Do y's want a Shirley Temple instead?"
Not knowing what a Shirley Temple was (general formula: ice, ginger ale, grenadine, maraschino cherry), I somewhat reluctantly agreed.
As a side note to this story, but a much more important fact of my own life, I did get the Shirley Temple that afternoon at the bar, but Uncle Eddie offered me a taste of his beer, to which I reacted, "Ptui." I have not touched beer since, unless preceded by "Root" or "Birch." So I must pause here and profusely thank my late Uncle Eddie for saving me thousands of dollars on Malt Beverages.
While there were plenty of other people I knew, including relatives on both sides of my family, who used "y's" as the All-Purpose Jersey Pronoun, it was that encounter in the bar that stuck in my mind long enough to be retrieved from deep storage when the post about the plural of "y'all" was mentioned.
And then there was another incident years later, which, in an incredible coincidence, involved not only the same generally unaccepted pronoun but also the same subject. My family had long since left The City for Suburbia. My father, my brother and I had paid a visit to a friend of my father's. However, we were a bit early and my dad's friend was running a bit behind schedule, so his father felt the need to make us comfortable while we waited.
And here's how he did it:
"Do y's want a beer? Do the kids want a beer?"