In the opening chapter of Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom's aunt Polly calls out to him in a rather peculiar fashion:

She went to the open door and stood in it, and looked out among the tomato vines and "Jimpson" weeds that constituted the garden. No Tom. So she lifted up her voice at an angle calculated for distance and shouted:

"Y-o-u-u Tom!"

There was a slight noise behind her and she turned just in time to seize a small boy by the slack of his roundabout and arrest his flight.

What's with this "Y-o-u-u" business? How is it meant to be read? Is it perhaps an antecedent of yoo-hoo?

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    No - it's just an attempt to mirror actual speech (well, here, fictitious speech) in the written word. In music, the trombone would play four notes loudly while the singer spread out the single word you. It would be a slide (no pun intended) rather than four separate syllables. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 17 '12 at 10:04
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    @EdwinAshworth Thank you. And what does "You Tom!" mean? When y-o-u-u is spread out, it begins to sound just like yoo-hoo. – coleopterist Dec 17 '12 at 10:16
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    You here is merely a pragmatic marker, subset attention-grabber like HEY! or (non-verbal) blowing a whistle or firing a flare. It may be omitted without rendering the remaining expression ungrammatical. One can probably put more emphasis on you than Tom; You! and certainly Hey, you! are often used as attention-demanders rather than grabbers (and aren't over-polite). There possibly is a connection with yoo-hoo!, but the latter expression has a less incisive, even namby-pamby, flavour. However, M-W says that it is probably a corruption of yo-ho, which seems piratical or at least nautical. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 17 '12 at 10:38
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    It would be interesting to consider the many movie versions of Tom Sawyer and see (in those including this line) how the actress pronounces "Y-o-u-u Tom!" – GEdgar Dec 17 '12 at 15:02
  • @EdwinAshworth Thanks for the answer-as-a-comment-as-an-answer :) I find the use of you as a discourse marker to be odd in the case of "You Tom!". "Yoo-hoo", "hello", "hey", "yo", "ho", "hoy", "ahoy", etc. are/were standard greetings and used as attention-seeking words. So, "H-e-l-l-o Tom!" would fit in perfectly. "You", to my ears, sounds off. – coleopterist Dec 17 '12 at 17:57

Here's the prologue to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

IN this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary "Pike County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.

Aunt Polly uses the Pike County dialect as does Tom, Huck, and Pap. Among the features of this dialect are the deletion of initial unstressed syllables and the accentuation of stressed vowel sounds. Examples of the former occur in Pap's 'lection (election) and Huck's 'deed (indeed). As for the latter, Aunt Polly says owdacious (audacious), creating an exaggerated diphthong of the first syllable. She does something similar with clothes and clo'es, and here Twain accentuates the diphthong in her speech with an apostrophe and the deletion of the "th". The resultant sound of the Pike County dialect is a twangy, drawling thing.

With regards to "Y-o-u-u Tom!" my conjecture is that she is obeying both of the above rules. She is deleting the unstressed syllable--in this case, a whole word: "Hey"--and she is accentuating the stressed vowel, possibly making it a diphthong owing to the second "u" in "Y-o-u-u Tom!". In short,

"Hey you, Tom!"

(I doubt any connection to yoo-hoo, which, as has been discussed in this and this EL&U post, has more to do with the "pirate" expression yo-ho than it does with you.)

For an interesting discussion of the accuracy of Twain's claim that only seven spoken dialects occur in Huck Finn, this article by David Carkeet is a good read.

  • The proper pronunciation of 'clothes' is ... Well no one actually uses that except maybe an English professor and then only in class...and then only when asked to pronounce it slowly and deliberately. Every other time though it is /klowz/. Pike County isn't special in that regard. – Mitch Dec 17 '12 at 13:25
  • @Mitch: I imagine it's something like "clow-iz" with two syllables, this owin' to the fact that she also uses h'yer (here), which is pronounced in two syllables. – tylerharms Dec 17 '12 at 13:45
  • @Mitch: I would imagine that "clo'es" is unlikely to be pronounced in any way but "clothes" with the 'th' removed, making it sound exactly like the verb "close". In Mark Twain's day, this pronunciation was probably regional and frowned on, whereas today it is extremely widespread. I very much doubt anybody ever said "clo-is". – Peter Shor Dec 17 '12 at 13:51
  • @PeterShor, tylerharms: yes, I see. I was only addressing the (currently rarely pronounced) consonant cluster /ðz/. But I'd find it hard to believe that it was ever pronounced fully. – Mitch Dec 17 '12 at 14:15
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    "Hey you, Tom." As in, Get over here, Tom. I know'd ya bin playin' hookey! – tylerharms Dec 17 '12 at 21:51

I had rather always imagined it was something more on the order of an older person's frustration with youth. When one of us was up to something & Papa was upset that was always when he scrambled our names or couldn't seem to get them out at all. In this regard I thought it was more of a universal human thing than something unique to Pike County speech patterns. But then as a Southerner, I am perhaps more inclined to view our foibles in a more universal light. Just my two cents.....

  • Please support answers with facts, references, or specific expertise (paraphrasing the FAQ). Answers which consist solely of opinion will attract downvotes and may ultimately be deleted. – MetaEd Dec 28 '12 at 5:51

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