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A common slang word used in south western Pennsylvania and the forefront example of of what is commonly known as "Pittsburghese" is the word:

Yinz

Pronounced:

| yinz |

Or alternatively it is less commonly used in long form, Youins:

| ju ɪnz |

To use it in a sentence would be similar to the slang conjugation Y'all when addressing or questioning an unnamed or understood group of people informally in a sentence.

Are yinz comin' out to our place before we head to the Steelers game?

Are y'all coming to the speedway for the NASCAR race?

As a native of Pittsburgh, we proudly use this word in conversation despite the seeming confusion and disdain that outsiders seem to have for this word. Two separate friends, one from Boston and one from Brooklyn, both criticize me when I use the word as well as other common regional differences like "this task needs finished..." or "I left the warsh rag by the sink". They say it makes me sound unintelligent and that I should teach myself to lose regional diction for the sake of my career.

I was often curious about the origins of the word. With south western PA being an old melting pot of original English/Scotch/Irish settlers, Italian, Polish and Slovak immigrants coming to work in the steel mills, I have heard from Italians that it came from the Polish, while the Polish claim it was from the Italians (I am mostly Italian and Polish by blood so I have both cultures in my family). Others still claim it was a derivation of African-American slang that everybody picked up because all of these different peoples worked closely in the same factories and mills.

Is there an official analysis on the origins of this word or is it forever to be a mystery lost in cultural history?

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I suspect it is a contraction of "You ones" similar to Thos'ens (Those ones) Thes'ens (These ones). "Youins take thes'ins here, an' I'll take thos'ens there." Do you also have "we-ins"? –  Jim May 29 '12 at 17:48
    
@Jim, no "we-ins"; we had the same momentary dissonance with the short story Digging the Weins (Weans? don't remember) that everybody else does. :-) –  Monica Cellio May 29 '12 at 17:52
    
This and this here are good reads. –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 May 29 '12 at 17:55
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@maple_shaft: I'm not sure what else you can be looking for. Wikipedia, Jim's upvoted comment, and the only answer thus far all agree it's "you ones". Probably directly deriving from Irish-Scottish original usage, but given other plurals such as youse, y'all, etc., feasibly just re-coined locally. Perhaps uptake was encouraged by a relatively high proportion of non-native speakers bothered by the fact that (unlike their languages) English had dumped the 2nd person singular/plural distinction. But the basic etymology seems pretty straightforward to me. –  FumbleFingers May 30 '12 at 2:35
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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Wikipedia says the Irish did it:

Crozier (1984) suggests that during the 19th century, when many Irish speakers switched to speaking English, they filled this gap with you ones, primarily because Irish has a singular second-person pronoun, tu, as well as a plural form, sibh. The following therefore is the most likely path from you ones to yinz: you ones [juː wʌnz] > you'uns [juːʌnz] >youns [juːnz] > yunz [jʌnz] > yinz [jɪ̈nz].

Their citation is:

Crozier, A. (1984). The Scotch-Irish influence on American English. American Speech 59: 310-331.

In this lecture starting at about 19:58, Barbara Johnstone, Professor of Rhetoric and Linguistics at Carnegie Mellon University, also suggest the "you ones" origin. (The first several minutes of that lecture give more background on the immigration patterns that shaped language in Pittsburgh.) h/t Paul Placeway for pointing out the video to me.

I grew up (and still live) in Pittsburgh and I remember yunz being more common 30-40 years ago, though yinz seems to be more common now.

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It sounds like it makes sense, and there were a good number of Irish immigrants as well, however nowhere near the levels of Italian, Slovak and Polish immigrants. It just doesn't make sense however that the word would be of Irish origin when areas like Boston had a much larger Irish immigrant population and as far as I know have no similar word to compare to Yinz. –  maple_shaft May 29 '12 at 18:19
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Linguistically, Pittsburgh seems to be something of a melting pot (or perhaps an Irish stew? :-) ). Several ethnic groups have contributed bits; the Irish (if this is true) aren't special here. As for why this didn't arise in other cities with significant Irish numbers, I have no answer. –  Monica Cellio May 29 '12 at 21:29
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Internally (within Pittsburgh) "yinzer" seems to be reserved as a label for citizens with a pronounced Pittsburgh accent. If you've ever seen the Wachowski Brothers movie Bound, imagine Joey Pantoliano's character with the heavy chicago accent, except make it a Pittsburgh accent.

Yuengling beer is sometimes referred to as Yinzerling. For several years Yuengling beer (brewed in PA) wasn't available in southwestern PA (rumor had it there was a lawsuit over the southwestern PA distribution contract, which included an injunction preventing Yuengling getting a new distributor in the region). This ended about 15–20 years ago and it's now widely available and popular with yinzers.

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