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I've often heard the phrase "you lot" in British programs on PBS, e.g. "Oi! You lot! Shift y'selves" or thereabouts, and have sometimes wondered about its origin and how it gained currency. It seems both elegant (short, easily understood, and accurately expressing plural of "you") and crude (on PBS, only heard in broad comedy) or perhaps colloquial. Its use seems to have sharply increased ca. 1960.

Why the increase, or is it an artifact of the corpus?

Are "you lot", "you-all" and "you guys" (as mentioned in the middle of Wikipedia on "you") cognates? Is there a more appropriate term for the group?

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Just FYI -- it's not really "you all"; the typical usage is "y'all". The contraction may not be well reflected in literature, but that's the way it's said, and that's the way it's understood. –  Kyle Pearson Sep 10 '11 at 4:10
@Kyle, as Wikipedia notes, "you-all" is said like that in some instances (I particularly notice it in questions, like are you-all going? or is that you-all's website?) in the southern USA and in AAVE, but I think you're right that it may not occur in BrE, which is what jwpat7 is primarily interested in :) –  aedia λ Sep 10 '11 at 4:22
@aedia: "You-all" is typically used as an intensifier, or when one is slowing things down for those unaccustomed to the use of "y'all". But this isn't an objection, just a friendly observation. –  Kyle Pearson Sep 10 '11 at 4:25
@Kyle Pearson is correct regarding American usage. I can vouch for this as a strident American English speaker who probably has no business answering British English questions. Y'all is the correct way to say it. "You all" is closer to more formal usage, at which point one sounds pretentious AND incorrect. Often, I catch myself saying or writing "you all" as an attempt to not say "y'all". But Wikipedia isn't always correct, and that isn't your fault! –  Feral Oink Sep 10 '11 at 10:16
Here I was all this time thinking it was Australian in origin. –  user19186 Mar 19 '12 at 19:49
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The answer to your second question is ‘no’: they are not cognates. Cognates are words descended from a common etymon; that is not a correct description of you lot, you all, y'all, yeuns, you guys, you folks, etc. (except for you all and y’all, of course). They are phrasal extensions of the bare pronoun you created to make it explicitly and unambiguously plural. For some speakers they’ve been fully grammaticalized, meaning that they’re no longer perceived as phrases but are single lexical items. This is especially true of y'all and yeuns for speakers of the varieties that have these two pronouns. My impression is that some British speakers have lexicalized you lot; I’ve encountered Americans who definitely seem to have lexicalized you guys (typically as y(ə)’guys), though I’ve not been in a position to investigate this scientifically.

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In your list of "explicitly pluralised" forms of you, you could include (primarily Northern) British yous. For some reason I can't fathom, there seems to be a tendency to spell it youse when the writer is trying to draw attention to the fact that he's reporting dialectal/uneducated speech. Maybe it's just that youse can also be used for the ungrammatical "You is", which I normally associate with stereotypical portrayal of poorly-educated black Americans in the past (esp. negro slaves on plantations). –  FumbleFingers Sep 10 '11 at 14:35
@FumbleFingers: Thanks; I’d forgotten about that one. There’s also yous(e) guys, found in New York, Philadelphia, and a few other places. –  Brian M. Scott Sep 10 '11 at 21:05
@Fumble: I think the Irish yez is the origin of that one, via Liverpool. –  TimLymington Sep 10 '11 at 21:45
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I don't have first hand familiarity with British English. However, there are sufficient counterparts with American usage, particularly in the links provided for clarification, that I'll try to respond.

  1. "You" is both the singular and plural form of the word. "You lot" or "You all" seem neither elegant nor accurate, as the plural form of "you" remains "you". "You lot" and "you all" are redundant. I wouldn't even consider them colloquial usage. Slang is more descriptive.
  2. Regarding the increase in usage over time: Yes, it did accelerate sharply from 1960 onward. Note though that the trend has reversed. The expression may not have entered the corpus, as usage rates dropped and have returned to levels observed (via your helpful link) last seen in the early 1980's.
  3. Cognates: No, they are not.
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Re (1): You’d simply be wrong: far from being slang, you all (usually as y’all) is fully grammatical and normal in many US spoken varieties. Yeuns (more or less) has the same status in some other varieties. Moreover, the explicitly plural forms have arisen precisely because in many contexts they are not pragmatically redundant: speakers find that they need an unambiguously plural second person pronoun. Re (3): They certainly are not cognates: they do not have a common etymological origin. –  Brian M. Scott Sep 10 '11 at 7:40
@jwpat7 No disrespect is intended in my answer, okay? It sounds irritable. I'm not ridiculing you or your question. –  Feral Oink Sep 10 '11 at 10:23
@Brian M. Scott Point taken. Edit in progress. They aren't cognates, even slang cognates. I read this en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y%27all see toward end re common etymology i.e. cognates, for youse and yeuse and y'uns, but that applies to American English, and I'm not so certain now anyway. –  Feral Oink Sep 10 '11 at 10:40
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Another example of usage

"You lot" is not the only possible usage. Consider this example:

Well, I just thought... maybe... it was something to do with... you know... her lot.

(From JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone)

In the U.S. edition of the same book, the expression "her lot" was replaced with "her crowd". Apparently, the editor did not consider this usage intuitive enough for a U.S. speaker of English.

Possible origin

In my opinion, "you lot" might have evolved from the original meaning of the word 'lot'. I cite dictionary entries below to show how the meaning of this word is extended in British English.

From Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

lot plural, noun, UK, informal: a group of people.

You're an ignorant lot!
Are you lot coming to lunch?
My lot (= children and family generally) won't eat spinach.

the lot UK, informal: everything.

I made enough curry for three people and he ate the lot.
Have I got everything? Is that the lot?
I'll sell you the whole lot for only £50.
I'm sick of the lot of them.

From the Oxford Online Dictionary:

lot noun [with adjective] chiefly British:
a group of a specified kind (used in a derogatory or dismissive way):
an inefficient lot, our Council.

From Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary:

informal a [count] chiefly Brit : all the members of a group of people — usually singular.

Do you know the lot [=bunch, crowd] that hang around the arcade?
That lot will never amount to anything! They're a thoroughly bad lot.
Pipe down, the (whole) lot of you. = Pipe down, you lot.

In British English, a person who is not liked is sometimes described as a bad lot.
He may be a bit wild, but he's not a bad lot once you get to know him.

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protected by RegDwigнt Mar 19 '12 at 20:04

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