Posted by: Jack Henry | October 5, 2017

Editor’s Corner: A History of the Word Ain’t

I expect the subject line of this email to cause some controversy (or at least some cringing). Plenty of people contend that ain’t is not a word. Those who allow that it is a word, still consider it to be nonstandard, at best. Ain’t has definitely proven to be one of our more notorious English contractions.

But what’s actually wrong with it, other than the belief that it is improper? Let’s break it down and look at the history.

While researching topics for the Editor’s Corner recently, I learned that in the 18th century, most contractions (can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, ain’t, etc.) were frowned upon. Interestingly, all these contractions, except ain’t, are now considered acceptable. They’re informal, but they are not considered wrong. However, there is still a very strong stigma against the contraction ain’t. Most people consider it to be improper and crude—but we use it for fun (for example, “Ain’t gonna happen!” and “Say it ain’t so!”).

When you break it down, the phrasal contraction “ain’t I”(short for “am I not”) makes more sense and is more grammatically correct than “aren’t I,” (which is short for “are I not”). This example illustrates that what becomes “standard English” is not always logical. Like I’ve said before, language rules are determined by how we actually use language—no matter what the experts say.

Now, I am not saying we should start using ain’t in our professional writing. Obviously, we should stick with standard usage and follow commonly accepted rules, which leaves ain’t out of the picture unless we’re communicating informally. But isn’t it interesting how this poor little contraction got such a bad rap? It just ain’t right.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

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