Well, actually, nothing. “Youse” has much to commend it, but regretfully it’s not standard.
Putting aside the discussion of “standard”, which is for another chapter, let me first explain why “youse” is OK. But then let me explain why you shouldn’t use it at the office.
Why is “Youse” OK?
First, consider language dynamics, understanding that all languages, all the time, are in a state of flux.
When my grandparents were amazed, they said “That’s a corker!”. For my Dad, something good was “Jim Dandy”. When I was young with shoulder-length hair, everything was “groovy”, but today, “groovy” is, like, ya know, so-o-o-o “not cool”!
But shouldst thou read Shakespeare or the King James Bible, thou wouldst wist how much the tongue hath changed in but four hundred years. Earlier still, you might perhaps agree with Chaucer, “Ful wys is he that kan himselve knowe!”
As English evolves, its tendency is toward simplification. In comparison to other languages, even related European languages, we have lost features like agglutination and declension, and “voice” is only retained in the subjunctive*, and then rarely (and badly) used. English drives toward simplicity.
But what we gain in simplicity, we give up in precision. And this is where we get into the touchy discussion of “youse”.
In nearly every other language in the world there is at least one word to express the second person singular, and at least one other to express the second person plural. In French you have “tu” and “vous” (with further rules having to do with the formality of address) while in German there are multiple choices because you first have to consider “case”. We anglos get off pretty easy.
As recently as a few centuries ago, English followed the normal pattern. Although today it’s “you say” for everyone, not that long ago it was the singular “thou sayest” and the plural “ye say”. So, “youse” is simply a logical and courageous holdout from another day.
But wait, there’s more! There’s a further complication- a skeleton in the closet! Many of our ancestors, even “British” ancestors, did not speak English at all, and they all said “youse”, or some perfectly legal equivalent.
Gaelic and Welsh were the everyday languages of many of our “British” ancestors, and these living languages persisted in common use well into the Twentieth Century. Even today there are over a million speakers of these tongues in the British Isles and these languages continue to influence the way bilingual Welsh, Irish and Scots speak English, eg: “Come you over by here now!” And most of us in the New World are influenced, at least on one side of our families, by some Celtic ancestor.
Bilinguals tend to keep the thought-patterns of their maternal language even while they are speaking the majority language. And the Celtic languages, like every other sensible language, differentiate between the singular and the plural. So, as our Celtic ancestors were forced to speak English, they kept their Celtic minds and Celtic language patterns, because these made sense. “You” for one, “youse” for two or more. Who could argue?
As the Scots-Irish made their way to the American Appalachians they continued to distinguish, addressing two or more as “y’all”. The Gaelic Scots and Irish who settled Newfoundland and Cape Breton kept “youse” alive. Parts of the eastern United States have regions where “yinz” is the term for second person plural. I’m sure our Australian, New Zealand and South African readers will provide further examples.
Even our children sense that there needs to be a distinction, and they say “you guys”.
We see, therefore, that “youse”, “y’all”, “yinz” and “you guys” have impeccable credentials and deserve respect. So, all of youse who bravely assert this logical structure, be proud and stand your ground!
But just not in the office.
Why You Can’t Say “Youse” in the Office
Unfortunately, majority rules. If youse or y’all want to live in a cabin in the hills, youse and y’all can say whatever you like. But if you go into the city and work in an office, people will laugh at you. That’s not fair, but that’s just the way it is. That’s because “youse” and “y’all” are not “standard English”. Even “you guys” is substandard, and when you get out of grade school, you need to stop using it. Standard English is what the people with the money and the printing presses say it is, and you need to speak to them in their language.
While “Standard English” is not completely standard-- there are British, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African variations (and more), by and large academic work is virtually indistinguishable from one country to another, and good journalism, unless you watch carefully for the “labour”/“labor” shibboleths, is also virtually the same. We seamlessly read each others’ legal judgments (“opinions” in US legal language), and it is really difficult to discern the country of origin of a scientific paper. Professionals and business people all, by necessity, speak the same language.
If you want to sound like you belong in the office, or the university, or the courtroom, then you need to speak Standard English. Unfortunately, there is no place in the world you can slip a “youse” into a treatise without raising eyebrows.
So, while I will show “youse” and “y’all” the historic respect they deserve, I don’t plan to use either one in my next lecture!
Youse have a good day, now, y’all!
*The subjunctive is use to describe a state of mind, rather than an actual fact: “I wish I were in Australia right now”, not “I wish I was...”
(Photograph attributed to Wikimedia.)
History would almost certainly have turned out differently if the DNC server had been boring. But it wasn’t. It was a cesspool of salacious gossip, childish invective and pork-barrel politics. Plots against Bernie Sanders and deals for political rewards for generous donors. And much more. If you were Donald Trump, what wasn’t to like?
Once hacked, the Democrats lost any moral high ground they may have had and appeared amateurish. Given two deplorable choices, voters went for the clown with the best circus.
Let’s be clear-- the Russians hacked the DNC. But let’s also be clear-- the Russians didn’t put the ugly stuff there. The Democrats did.
When they were caught, the DNC offered abject apologies: "On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email".
Nice try, but why would you believe them to be sincere? Humpty Dumpty was off the wall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men were helpless. The election was over.
The Lessons of History
What the Democrats learned is that once the horse is out of the barn it’s too late to deny that you had a horse. This is a lesson for every enterprise.
Your enterprise needs to govern its public and private communication on the assumption that it will all come to light at an inopportune moment. The only time you have any real control is when the communication is being created.
Seven Simple Rules for Enterprise Communication:
1. Don’t say in the dark what you will regret when the lights go on. Dirty secrets will always be dirty, but not always secret. Conduct yourself as if everyone is constantly watching. They probably are.
2. In your enterprise setting, if you don’t know how everyone in the organization is talking, you had better be prepared to live with the consequences. Side conversations will come to light and embarrass you. While you can’t oversee every word, you can control the culture.
3. Understand the difference between private messaging and public messaging, and keep a firewall between them. Discussions which are intended to be private, such as memos about terminating an employee, client or supplier, need to be conducted in very grown-up language, marked confidential, and fire-walled. While you never want such communication to become public, write as if it will.
4. If your public face and your private face are not consistent, you will be caught out and embarrassed. The supermarket tabloids are not going to report on the 95% of your internal communication which is honourable.
5. If someone in your enterprise doesn’t speak or act like a grown-up, deal with them. Each childish outburst or incendiary memo is just one more step on the road to Armageddon.
6. What you think you are saying, and what the public thinks it hears, can be two very different things. Particularly for sensitive material, have someone else review for potential misinterpretation.
7. When you get sued, your file will be Exhibit “A”. You will be cross-examined on every word on every page. Today you can control those pages, tomorrow you can’t. Need I say more?
When I was a kid I lived in rural New Brunswick. We had a dog named Mike-- one of the smartest I've ever known, with one notable exception-- he had a failing for porcupines.
There are a few things you need to know about porcupines. They're not clever, nor are they fast, because they don’t need to be either. They're not beautiful, they have no social graces, they have no friends. They cause considerable damage to wooden structures. There's not much to like.
Covered from nose to tail with barbed, razor-sharp quills, they have no need for social skills. If you bother one it just curls up in a prickly ball and swats away with its spiny tail. If you get too close, you will become impaled by quills which will work their way ever deeper into your flesh.
It's easy to see why porcupines have no friends and why most wild animals give them wide berth. But Mike didn’t. His usual brilliance evaporated when he encountered one. Bravado took over. You know that’s not good.
Mike preferred the direct approach. He always won, in the sense that the foe was vanquished. Mike gave new meaning to the Pyrrhic victory. How can you not love a dog with that kind of insane courage?
Thus, every month or two I’d get home from school to find Mike whimpering on the porch, his muzzle a thick and bloody beard of quills, his mouth choked with them. The evening's work was to extract all of these things, one by one. Mike was stoic, the family not so much.
After a few weeks' convalescence, Mike would plot his revenge and the cycle continued.
But this is not just the story of Mike the Dog-- it's a parable told because you and I deal with “porcupine people” every day. You know the type.
Not everyone we encounter is interesting, engaging and happy to be with us. Many can be ornery, dull, disengaged and socially inept. Some have been elevated to the bench or positions of authority, and you have to work with them.
So, how do you deal with a “porcupine”?” In ascending order of sophistication, I think the approaches are as follows:
The most basic rule: don't be Mike the Dog. No matter how infuriated you may be, no matter how just your cause, biting the porcupine just never ends well for anyone.
In many cases you can simply ignore the beasts. They go their way, you go yours. This is the easiest route, but not always the best.
In the wild you often have to go a bit further and be pro-active, protecting wooden structures with metal, or perhaps live trapping the porcupine and taking him off to a new home. Similarly, with “porcupine people” you need to engineer protective workarounds, or figure out how to get them out of your life, or you out of theirs.
But sometimes you have no choice but to work with the porcupine-- perhaps the judge, the dissatisfied client, or the supplier of an essential commodity... the list is endless. You have no idea why the person is being so difficult. Sometimes they're just mad at the world. In any event it's beyond your power to do anything about their grievance.
With such people you need to call on every ounce of patience and grace you can muster, maintain your good humour and be careful with your words. Such encounters are difficult, often frustrating, but each one gives an opportunity to become a better person and a better communicator.
Finally, in some circumstances, you can actually befriend a porcupine. Keep in mind that the porcupine is not evil, he just has no social skills. But, if you help him overcome his fears, show him some respect, make it clear that you are happy to co-exist and be friendly, and if you are patient, you may find in time that beneath all those quills is a gentle soul who will make you an exception to his need for solitude. It is even said that you can pet a porcupine as long as you remember to pet it with the grain!
How did Paul McCartney write the tune for Yesterday? He awoke one night with it playing in his head, perfectly complete. Immediately he got up and went to the piano so he would not lose it. American Woman “just happened” out of a random riff and suddenly the band was belting it out fully formed. Tennessee Waltz was composed and written on a matchbox while the musicians were driving their equipment truck to the next town. In the morning the producer changed only part of one line.
Nearly all of us have awakened in the middle of the night with a complete solution to some daytime conundrum. Similarly, we may awaken with a key question or a troubling analysis related to some important professional or personal issue. Our subconscious is busy taking care of business while we sleep.
Take a tip from Sir Paul-- get up and record the thought so you don’t lose the benefit. Nothing is worse than waking up in the morning with a vague recollection that you had “nailed something” during the night, but can’t remember what or how. Granted, many midnight solutions look pretty silly the next day, but many turn out to be pure genius. Why waste the good ones?
Many of us do our best thinking in the shower. Others report flashes of inspiration while they are driving, hiking, rolling paint or stacking wood. No matter when or where, take the time to write a “memo to self” before the gem is lost. (Well, OK, maybe you should focus on your driving, but at least stick your chewing gum on the mirror as a reminder!)
All kinds of stuff has been written about these intrusions of “the other” into our consciousness. Some say it is divine, some say you can thank the ghosts of your ancestors, others believe you are channelling the ancients or perhaps having a memory of some previous existence, or you keep a rabbit’s foot or copper amulet under your pillow. Perhaps.
But ever the spoilsport, let me suggest a more mundane explanation. For a professional communicator, it’s also more useful. Ready? Here it is: You have a whole other life about which you know very little!
Nearly everything you have ever seen, heard or otherwise experienced remains filed away in your subconscious. There’s probably more data in your brain than on all of Google’s servers. Some of it is recorded accurately. Some has been over-written somewhat to make it more palatable. Often the actual memory and the edited memory are both still on file, one just buried a little deeper than the other.
But all these bits of information are not static. Your mental hard drives are spinning all the time while your brain visits and revisits “long forgotten” data, constantly trying to make sense of it, trying to make the pieces fit, somehow, into your personal life legend. Your brain races feverishly, day and night, processing all the bits to see how they might connect and how they could be made useful.
Fortunately for most of us, all this activity occurs below the surface and is further obscured during our active waking hours by the noise of our surroundings and our intellectual activity. If you could actually hear all this subconscious activity it would sound like a thousand noisy dining halls and you would go crazy.
From time to time your subconscious has done some stellar analysis and has something really important to tell you. During the day, or while your conscious mind is too focused on matters at hand, little attention will be paid to the rather quiet voice of the subconscious. But when you are sleeping, showering or peeling potatoes, the subconscious mind can make a delivery.
This understanding is of critical importance to students of communication. Why? Because your important message will be received, perceived and remembered at both the conscious and the subconscious level. Particularly if you want to impact long-term behaviour, you need to be speaking to the subconscious.
Whether you are teaching calculus, raising kids, leading an organization or selling services, you are doing much more than simply transmitting information. You are trying to bring about behavioural change (yes-- learning calculus is a behavioural change!), and behavioural change is something which evolves deep within the individual mind and heart, beginning at the subconscious level.
Let’s use an analogy: making wine. The vintner will decide which grape, picked when ripe or over-ripe or frozen, with or without skins, and which yeast and additives are to be used. Once the yeast is pitched, a process begins which will take months, perhaps years, to complete. Converting sugars to alcohol is just the beginning, after which long storage, often in oak barrels, allows hundreds of complex chemical transformations to occur. While a little bit of luck may be involved, the initial input of the vintner is what produces a marvellous wine years down the road.
In exactly the same way the great communicator serves up the correct mix of ingredients in his messaging, knowing that these will continue to ferment and blend until the desired effect is achieved.
In planning a presentation or a campaign, a lesson or a heart-to-heart talk, remember to provide hooks to allow the subconscious to make desired connections. Parable and analogy are powerful in this regard. You will also want to provide the listener some square pegs and some round pegs, knowing that there are some square holes and round holes in his current experience, and that some day at three in the morning, his still-busy mind will make the fit.
Never forget that, particularly for the really important impact you may wish to make, the listener’s “Aha!” moment may not occur while they are listening to you, but next month when he is mowing the lawn. Your job is to set up for success, and let time work its magic.
Nothing hurts like a smack-down. You’ve given your best to an audience, to the court, to your company, to your teenage kid and in response, you get smoked.
As a lawyer of thirty-six years I’ve seen it all. I’ve been roasted in open court by cranky judges, sometimes deserved, mostly not. I’ve brought a client the head of John the Baptist on a platter and been asked, “Where’s the rest?” I’ve walked into many a mediation where the other lawyer wanted to be John Wayne. And well over half the cases I’ve ever handled arose because of broken communication of one sort or another, as a result of which we started in acrimony and went downhill.
As humans, we love to be loved, but it’s not always reciprocated. Often you reach out in peace, and in response you get nuked. Between you and your listener is a smoking crater.
Every case will be different, and what follows is necessarily generic. But these principles apply in most cases:
1. Before anything else, stop and take a very deep breath. Recognize that you have just experienced not one, but two highly emotional events: their rejection and your response to it. Don’t dismiss the importance of this.
2. First, you need to deal with your response to the rejection. So long as you are angry or hurt, you won’t handle this well. There is no chance of recovery without at least one adult in the room.
3. With your own heart and mind now under control, it’s time to analyze the emotional component of the other party’s rejection. For now, forget about their “logic” or lack thereof, but focus on their tone, body language, and what they didn’t say. At this juncture it’s not about content, it’s about their delivery. Keep in mind that most dogs bite out of fear, not aggression, and people are exactly the same.
4. Decide if you want, or need, to try again. Often the smartest thing is just to let it go and move on. But sometimes you can’t, or shouldn’t. Perhaps the other person is a key customer, a supplier, a business colleague, or even a child or a spouse. Courage and discipline are in order, particularly where there is an invested relationship. Decisions like these are for grownups.
5. If you decide not to try again, be smart in how you walk away. Take the high road. Don’t prove you are the jerk they alleged you to be!
6. If you decide to try again, first review in your mind the essentials of effective communication:
7. Now you’re ready to try to re-connect. But, before you start anything, remember that you have a crater problem! You may be ready, but your listener probably is not-- in fact, they’re likely bunkered down waiting for the counterattack. So, before you begin:
8. When you make your initial approach, keep in mind that questions are usually smarter than statements at this point. Don’t rush the conversation-- be prepared to do lots of listening.
9. Be appropriate in your language. Don’t grovel if that’s not warranted (and it rarely is), and don’t couch your reaching-out in defensive, qualified or condescending language. If you don’t have the faintest clue why your listener responded violently, say so, but in a sincere, respectful fashion.
10. Above all else, try to get your listener to open up. When they do, even a little bit, shut up and pay attention. Don’t cut in and confirm all their fears and preconceptions. If you hear them out with respect, you might just fill a crater.
11. Be patient. Filling the crater may be all you can do today. Getting to Point B may have to wait for another time, or it may never happen, but at least the crater has been filled.
12. If you’re lucky and the listener still wants to get to Point B, take the time to assess with them their idea of Point A, be sure you are agreed about the meaning of Point B, and that they are willing to hold your hand all the way to Point B.
And good luck with your next smoking crater!
One last thing-- keep it in perspective. The photograph at the top of this story shows the result of a recent truck bomb in Baghdad. You think your life is hard..........
Norman Bowley teaches the Alignment Doctrine and the Client Code-- secrets to building the professional practice you and your clients deserve.