Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Is It Y Or Why?

Is it Y or Why?

Do you ever ponder a question that seems like it should have an obvious easy peasy answer, but you still can’t quit thinking about it? I do. Kinda like when you write a word and know it’s spelled right but the more you look at it the more it seems like it’s spelled wrong?

A while back, a blind pig reader sent me an email saying they sometimes start their sentences with Y-you know like: “Y I ought to whip you.” or “Y there ain’t no way I could do that.”

The reader wanted to know-is it Y cause that’s what it sounds like they’re saying? But Y isn’t a word. So are they saying the word Why?

I say it too. Things like “Y he’ll never manage that, what were they thinking when they give him that job?” or “Quit worring about it. Y all you have to do is be yourself and it’ll all work out fine.”

So I’ve been studying the issue-and I’ve decided we are saying Why not Y-because how could you say Y since it isn’t a word right? Or maybe it is Y?

What do you think? Do you say it too?



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  • Reply
    Ray Presley
    July 30, 2021 at 11:45 am

    Y, I’ll never know why you would even debate that issue of using “Y” or “why.” “Why” is for when you ask a question, and “Y” is a special word with no distinct meaning. It’s just a form of expression in The South. All good southerners know that “Y” is as much a word as any. “Y, I’ll be…You look just like a new dollar!”

  • Reply
    July 28, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    Why, you know, I think I do from time to time.

  • Reply
    Nancy M.
    July 20, 2012 at 9:39 am

    So funny! Sometimes I will just sit here saying a word and it just sounds wrong! Or when I write a word and it just looks weird. I think the Y means why too! I hear people saying it and I may be guilty of it too.

  • Reply
    Steve At Thewell
    July 17, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    I believe it is ‘Y’. I live in SE KY and I use both ‘Y’ and ‘why.’ They sound different when I use them. If I say “why,” it’s a little like blowing a bit of air out while forming the “wh” sound with my lips. When I say something and use “Y,” it a sounds just like that sound of “Y.” As in saying “YMCA.” Some people do shorten “why” into “Y” though when using “why.” Depending on their version of the local mountain dialect. See y’all later! 😉

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    July 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    Tipper–Just back from a family reunion in the mountains, so I just took a quick gander at this, and someone may have already offered my basic comment.
    It is to advise you that “Y” is a word, and it is spelling wye. A wye is something (usually an intersection) shaped like the letter. There is a well-known one inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park not far from Townsend, TN.
    Now ain’t I acting like a smarty pants for coming up with such an easy peasy (I had never heard that before) answer?
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    July 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    Why I never heard of such. I guess I’m one of those who drop their h’s when speaking. I always considered why and y to sound the same. :O)

  • Reply
    Rose C.
    July 14, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Love “Y” !

  • Reply
    Gorges Smythe
    July 14, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    Texting short-hand is one thing, but a “Y” has a “yuh” sound by itself. What you’re REALLY trying to decide is whether you say “wy” or “why.” The “W” has a “wu” sound as in “was.” the combination “WH,” though has the “wh” sound like in “whittle.” Redneck that I am, I’ve still always said the correct “why.” However, I’ve heard many others say “wy” and never know the difference.

  • Reply
    July 14, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    In my opinion, there are two reasons the word ‘why’ , when used at the beginning of a sentence or expression, sounds like ‘y’: First, it is an outdated use of the word- you will see in dialog narrative (hear it in old movies or TV), as in, “Why, I’ve never seen such a mess!”; second, southerners often drop the ‘h’, even in other ‘w’ words. My mother used it constantly!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Tim- my mother died several years before the internet was conceived. She started some sentences with a word that had only the Y sound. She knew the word Why and used it quite well when asking a question. It had the Wh sound. The word Tipper is referring to and the one my mother and grandmother used, had only the Y sound and was an exclamation. Or a threat, in my case.
    I am the Blind Pig reader who originally asked Tipper the question as to the use of the word. I was trying to write as I spoke but when I came to this word, I couldn’t get past it. I was saying Y and spelling it Why and it didn’t seem to fit. And it was always at the beginning of a sentence. So, I went to my source for “mountain speak” issues, the Blind Pig herself. Alas, I think I confused her as much as I had already confused myself. Such is life!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    July 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Tipper, you’ve opened a can of worms today. “Y” I niver heerd so much to-doo over a perfectly good expletive. I and A stand as words so why shouldn’t Y?

  • Reply
    Stephen Ammons
    July 14, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    I hadn’t really thought about it much but yes i sometimes start a statement with Y. Most of the time it would be like, Shirla said being followed by yes or no. I guess i say it when someone asks me something that they should already know the answer to and it irritates me to even answer it.All the posts brought up some good points and some led you to think it is why but others not so much. I wonder if it could be short for a word that just isn’t used anymore from 16th century old english. Does make you wonder what we have lost because someone else didn’t think it was proper. Thank you

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    July 14, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Why is an interjection, and when used in the beginning of a sentence it is followed by a comma. ‘Y’ by itself is considered to be a letter of the alphabet. However, without research, I have a feeling that a century or two ago, persons writing the English language may have used it independently. Interesting question, to say the least!

  • Reply
    Brian Blake
    July 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Why should we not give this question some serious thought?

  • Reply
    July 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I got too much to do to start
    thinking about that! Stuff like
    this is probably what causes
    Migrains, but it’s fun ain’t it?

  • Reply
    barbara gantt
    July 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Its a word in my family, Barbara Gantt

  • Reply
    Tim Cuthbertson
    July 14, 2012 at 11:37 am

    I never use “Y” as a word nor even think about it that way. I think it is a derivative of l33t-speak (pronounced elite-speak) which came into use on the internet several years back. It seems to be a desire to compress all literacy out of writing and reduce everything to the shortest sound alike possible.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    July 14, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Y yes, it is part of my speech.

  • Reply
    July 14, 2012 at 10:23 am

    Y, yes it is a word at my house. The way I use it doesn’t always replace ‘why’. Seems like yes or no always follows.

  • Reply
    July 14, 2012 at 10:18 am

    I just call it Lazy Lips. In my corner of the world we slanged the word ‘there’ with ‘air’ (which is easier to physically pronounce) when we would say, “Oh, he’s over air! 😀 That’s wire-grass talk.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    July 14, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Y, I’ve been saying that my whole life! It looks kinda funny when you see it writing though. I know Y is not a word but it’s more fun to say than why. Y, I would have never even thought about it if you had not brought it up. Here is one for you. My dad would say ” ey law” in context to being worried or saddenend about something. I think it comes from saying my lord.
    Good topic Tipper!

  • Reply
    Marylou Sweat
    July 14, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Tipper, Thank you so much for your post! I didn’t have ANYTHING to think about today! Now I do…and I think I say Y too ;o) Marylou

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 14, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Well I’ll be….I think that’s what Y means. Please do not ask me what ‘well I’ll be’ means cause I don’t know. Just an exclamation of some sort.
    Tipper, you have the most interesting things rolling around in that head of yours. Don’t you ever get tired of all that thinking?
    Nice photo of the pondering knitter!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 14, 2012 at 9:41 am

    Why you can even enter the 30th Annual World Gee Haw Whimmy Diddle Competition if you want.
    Is this a question? Do I drop the Wh when I read it?

  • Reply
    b. ruth
    July 14, 2012 at 9:33 am

    See, what I mean…That last sentence was supposed to say…At least wise it has a lot of room to roll….lOL
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Karen Larsen
    July 14, 2012 at 9:30 am

    I don’t say that, but it looks like some of that darn text-speak abbreviation. Like LOL FYI IMHO etc….

  • Reply
    b. ruth
    July 14, 2012 at 9:30 am

    I pondered this myownself for a while…It is just too much trouble to say “wh” sound in “why”…so we shorten it to “Y”…After all we are so doggone busy, here in the mountains, rockin’ in our cheers on the porch to “fool” with such “tom foolery” as “wh” in “Y”…
    And “why” oh “y” did you have to “tinker” with my poor brain on such a lovely, quite, Saturday mornin’…
    A’liken to me havin’ to study on the “alphiebet” ending of …dubya, ex, Y and zeee.!!
    Thanks anyway for a good post Tipper, you know we love ya anyhow…..Y, Why, Y, mercy, that’ins goin’ to roll around up in my noggin’ like a marble for a while…well at wise it has a lot of room to roll…LOL

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 14, 2012 at 9:28 am

    But why use why? You’re making a exclamatory statement! Why preface it with question? Why usually asks the reason or explains the answer.
    The Three Stooges had “Why, I
    oughta…, which is similar to what we use, but I don’t think my old grandma that used to say “Y you little @#$%, if I could catch you I’d stripe your legs” learned it from TV.
    Y (Why) now I’m more confused than when this started? or !

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    July 14, 2012 at 9:20 am

    I agree that it is why. But I don’t know why we use “why” that way. I never thought about it before, but why do we do that?

  • Reply
    July 14, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Actually, Tipper, it’s “Why [comma] as in: “Why, I never thought the shorthand used in text messaging would creep this far into the English language.” much in the same manner as “‘Pon my word,Billy, them wild hogs are about to take over my pasture” or “My stars and garters, Lorena, would you look at all the ‘coon hides on Trapper Jack’s woodshed wall?”
    Good Gravy, don’t ask me how I know this,I don’t diagram sentences, I just write ’em…

  • Reply
    July 14, 2012 at 8:58 am

    I have wondered that about several words. One being the one you just used. Is it a while back or a wile back? Thought about it once in a while for years. Thanks for making me look it up. It is a while back. You jar my brain every time I read your blog.

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