“Ain’t” Ain’t Necessarily So Good?

Without much doubt the most contentious word usage issue in the past few decades in American English has been the validity or the correctness/incorrectness of “ain’t.”

It was recently a topic of discussion in an “Ann Landers” column,  and our fair state was involved.  Seems as if “Grammar Grandma in North Carolina” was upset that her four-year-old grandson was using the verb “ain’t” quite often.  When she expressed her concerns to her daughter,  “a college graduate,”  that woman “became very defensive when I mentioned it, and told me it is accepted in the South and he will continue to use that word.”

Grandma went on to share her concern that her grandson may have a limited future and fewer opportunities because of this fellow’s word usage.

If you don’t recall even the gist of Ann Lander’s reply,  I will not reveal it here.

Rather, I would first like to know what you think about this matter.   And we’ll go on (for quite a while, I expect) from there.



12 Responses to ““Ain’t” Ain’t Necessarily So Good?”

  1. Donna Hultberg Says:

    Dear Professor Rundus, I support Grandma. I constantly hear speech that is grammatically incorrect, often from people in the media to professionals & even teachers! From my own experience with grandchildren, it seems that the acceptance of mediocrity in many areas of development & education is the norm. I have even found myself slipping into the habit of using “ain’t” lately and have given my husband permission to corrrect me when I do. Such bad habits were “nipped in the bud” by diligent teachers when I was a child. We were taught to at least strive for a good education. There is a difference between regional sayings and bad grammar. The first can be charming while the latter makes the speaker appear ignorant or worse yet, to lazy to care about getting it right.

  2. Daryl Cobranchi Says:

    “Ain’t” ain’t a word in my home. 🙂

    Seriously, we’ve taught all of our kids never to use it. And the misuse of “seen” (as in “I seen it.”) is likewise verboten.

    I’ll very rarely use “ain’t” in my writing, but only for effect. I’m of the opinion that it’s okay to break a rule as long as you know you’re breaking it and why.

  3. Macky Myers Says:

    I recall an incident in one of my former classes where a student blurted out in front of the entire class: “I ain’t got no pencil nohow!” From that day forward, every student in class teased, nagged, and continually tormented this student mercilessly reminding him of his poor language usage.

    What is sown is often reaped. Bad habits are hard to break. In my opinion, grandma knows best. I agree with Daryl and Donna.

  4. Gregory Phillips Says:

    I’m happy to sail with the prevailing winds on this, but I think it’s important to note that the occasional spoken “ain’t” isn’t too egregious, as long as the speaker knows what he’s up to.

    On the subject of regional sayings, one of my favorites since arriving in North Carolina has to be, “It makes me no nevermind.” I hope one day to hear someone say, “It don’t make me no nevermind,” but that hasn’t happened yet.

  5. Jeff Thompson Says:

    Doc, to me, ain’t has become accepted slang. I’m far more concerned about grammer issues which are no longer valued in public school. I’m told the language is fluid and it’s okay to say “me and her” instead of “she and I” or “it don’t matter” ‘stead of “it doesn’t matter” because the thought is communicated. I consider the bastardization of the king’s english a big part of the “…decline of the American Civilization.” 1

    1 Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

  6. Disgusted Says:

    Occassionally I will slip out with an “ain’t” in one of my sentences but I usually do it intentionally around friends for effect.
    e.g. “That ain’t going to happen!”

    One of my friend tells a story about their kid who used the word ain’t in a sentence. He told the child that it was not a word.
    The child went to his mother and said “Ain’t ain’t a word?” The mother replied “No, it ain’t”.

  7. pen Says:

    “Ain’t”, if I read correctly, was originally a contraction of “am not”. So to say “I ain’t” was no different from saying “you aren’t” or “he/she/it isn’t”. Somewhere along the line it started to be used in each subject person and number, and somewhere along the line it became forbidden while other contractions kept on. So now we have a word we can all turn our noses up to, and the only way to contract “I am not” is “I’m not”.

  8. Tammy Stephens Says:

    I think this is sweating over the small stuff. I would not use it professionally, but a slip around friends, I think is just fine. Words that are worse (cursing), are more commonly used than ain’t.

  9. Dave Hayes Says:

    No doubt about it. Kids need to learn how to speak properly, but we need to recognize that the standards of what is proper evolve.

    For instance, my use of the term “kids” would have been problematic a few decades ago. However, I think that the term has come to have a connotation that is slightly different than “children”. If I say “children”, one gets a sense of a younger age range than if I say “kids” (maybe that’s just me).

    There is one colloqialism that I have unabashedly internalized, and that is the term “you all”. It provides a distinct second person plural pronoun. Personally, I dislike the many meanings of the word “you” and prefer having “one”, “you” and “you all” in my pronoun quiver.

    I think people run into trouble when words like “ain’t” displace the more formal ones in their vocabulary instead of adding to it.

  10. Raymond Rundus Says:


    One correction to my original posting on the “Ain’t” topic: the columnist in the local daily is “Dear Abby” (or Abigail Van Buren) not “Ann Landers.”

    Appreciation to all for the comments and extrapolations (see dict. if in doubt about the latter word).

    I continue observations upon the theme of “ain’t” in contemporary American English usage and abusage in a separate posting.


  11. Raymond Rundus Says:

    Great story there, Disgusted. I’ll have to keep that in my brain locker.


  12. allan Says:

    Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.

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