Posted in Book Talk

Word Origins: it ain’t proper!

Hey y’all! I got to clicking around in the many pages of etymological history of all the words in English, and it of course led me to a delightful little discovery. ^.^

Origins of “ain’t”

When did it first get used?
1706

What does it mean?
a contraction meaning “is not,” “have not,” “are not,” basically a pretty flexible little word

What did it come from?
This one is kind of simple, as it more or less logically followed the rules of other contractions. I am becomes I’m, can not becomes can’t, and is not became ain’t, probably because “int” is an awkward sound to make and link to other sounds in the sentence.

My favorite part of this work is that it was perfectly acceptable in proper English for quite a while. The thing that tipped the word into disfavor is when ain’t was used largely in Cockney dialect in writing, such as from Dickens around the 1850s. Once people hear the way those caricatured characters sounded saying it, they ditched it ASAP. Ain’t fell into the pits of the uncouth and uncultured.

And was dramatically resurrected by humorists and hooligans galore!

Or at least that’s my preferred depiction, since ain’t is still pretty popular where I’m from. It’s not something I would normally say, but I might use it to make a point or for dramatic effect. Here are a few notable uses of ain’t even after it’s been -ahem- disbarred from proper English.

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Reader, traveler, photographer, and always looking to learn!

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