Why Is Ain’t Improper?
When I was a kid, nobody in my house said the word ain’t. In a way, the word ain’t was worse than profanity. I heard my parents say other inappropriate words like the F-word, and the Shhhhhhh-word and the word that rhymes with Mod-Gammit, but I never heard my parents say ain’t.
I think I said ain’t a couple times and was corrected, but I didn’t get my mouth washed out with soap for saying ain’t. I got my mouth washed out for saying other words, so in that regard, ain’t wasn’t worse than profanity. I just knew not to say it.
In elementary school, I had a friend who used to say, “Ain’t ain’t a word, so you ain’t s’posed to say it three times a day cuz it ain’t proper.”
The humor in that statement was that the word ain’t was used four times in one sentence when you weren’t supposed to say it three times in one day. I had some rebellious friends. That same rebellious friend became a police officer (but NOT part of the grammar police), but I don’t know how long he was a cop. When I last spoke to him (over twenty years ago), he said, “I can’t believe I’m a f###ing pig.”
But I don’t remember him saying the word ain’t during that entire conversation.
WHY IS AIN’T IMPROPER?
Most (if not all) forms of the verb be have contractions. Is not has isn’t. Was not has wasn’t. Were not has weren’t.
And a few hundred years ago, am not had amn’t.
Somewhere along the way, amn’t became ain’t. And somewhere along the way, ain’t became improper.
PURE SPECULATION ALERT!!!
Amn’t does not (or doesn’t) roll off the tongue. It sounds like a mild form of profanity. Say amn’t and dammit in the same sentence, and people could get confused. Dropping the m makes it much easier to say. Unfortunately, that makes the contraction an’t which can be confused with ant or even aunt. The pronunciation then may have changed to ain’t because people would rather sound low class than be confused.
If a bunch of linguists and etymologists are shaking their heads in disgust right now, then I’ve done my job well.
HOW TO USE AIN’T CORRECTLY
Even if ain’t were proper (and it isn’t), people who say ain’t usually use it incorrectly. Ain’t was originally the contraction for am not. In order to say am not properly, you need the subject I.
For example, you might say, “I am not ever going to read another John Grisham book again.” Therefore, saying “I ain’t ever going to read another John Grisham book again” might have been grammatically correct a long time ago. And from my point of view, the statement is also factually correct.
However, it is grammatically incorrect to say, “We am not ever going to read another James Patterson novel.” The sentiment might be right, but the grammar is not. Therefore, saying “We ain’t ever going read another James Patterson novel” would never have been grammatically correct.
It is incorrect to say, “He am not (ain’t) going to ever read another Tom Clancy novel again.”
It is also incorrect to say, “She am not (ain’t) going to read another Janet Evanovich novel ever again.”
Technically, the only time ain’t should be used is when I is the subject. That might be what originally infuriated the English language purists. It wasn’t the word ain’t itself; it was probably the overuse.
So if you want to frustrate a grammarian (it’s fun to do on a slow day), use the word ain’t properly.
IS AIN’T A DYING WORD?
I don’t hear the word ain’t used frequently anymore. As a kid, I heard it all the time, and it was corrected a lot. Today, I live in a section of the United States that is reputed to use ain’t, but I don’t hear it. I even hang out with the type of person who is supposed to say ain’t, but I still haven’t heard it used much. Maybe ain’t is on its way to becoming a dying word.
No matter how much its use may decline, ain’t will never be a completely dead word. It’s too easy to say to ever go away. Plus, it will always be fun to watch the grammarians get mad.
I just read this whole thing out loud. If I’m not supposed to say ain’t three times a day, then I’m in huge trouble with the grammar police. But my rebellious police officer friend would be proud of me.
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