‘Ain’t ain’t a word’

Published 5:30 pm Friday, December 13, 2019

If you were ever in your life a young person growing up in the South then you undoubtedly have used the word “ain’t” in a sentence only to have someone (perhaps an adult family member or aggravated English teacher) tell you that “Ain’t ain’t a word.”

According to Dictionary.com, the colloquialism “ain’t” is a nonstandard contraction of “am not,” “are not,” “is not,” “have not,” and “has not.” While ain’t ain’t exactly a real word or “proper English” as your teacher might have told you, I think it’s pretty ridiculous to limit such a word from a person’s everyday vocabulary, especially if it’s so obvious as to what they’re trying to get across.

In fact, that’s been a pet peeve of mine for some time. How often have you had to navigate your way through a tough sentence only to be told that something you said was not a real word?

Email newsletter signup

I’m not talking about common mispronunciations such as saying “expresso” instead of “espresso” or calling that huge body of water that touches the west coast the “specific ocean.” Haven’t you ever accidentally mumbled out a new word like “flustrated” to describe yourself as both flustered and frustrated? Or perhaps in a moment of short-circuiting your brain forgot the word “aquarium” and you called it a “liquid zoo.”

Whenever someone points out that something I said is not a word, I like to point them to good ol’ William Shakespeare. We love to praise Shakespeare as one of the greatest literary minds to ever live, even though Shakespeare invented an unreal amount of words in his lifetime, including the word “unreal.”

Litcharts.com cites that while it’s impossible to determine all the words that Shakespeare invented, there are 422 bona fide terms that we are almost certain the old poet thought up himself. These include hundreds of words that we commonly use today, such as “amazement,” “defeat,” “flowery,” “majestic,” “shipwrecked,” “gossip,” and “unquestionable.”

What’s even more interesting is that Encyclopedia Americana suggests that there were only 50,000-60,000 words in the English language during Shakespeare’s time. The Oxford English Dictionary cites that around 171,476 words are in (common) use today, although the number is closer to 700,000 if you count older and outdated terminology. Shakespeare, according to Litcharts.com, used a total of 31,534 different words in his collected writings, so he was really working with all that he had.

What do all of these numbers and quotation marks mean? It means that the next time someone tells you that you can’t just go around making up words, point them to Shakespeare, hero of the English language. And while “ain’t” is maybe not a good word to use in a college essay or in the presence of business partners, there ain’t nothing wrong with using it at your own leisure. Now, let’s talk about double negatives.

Alexa Massey is a staff reporter for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. Her email address is Alexa.Massey@FarmvilleHerald.com.