English English language Etymology Expression Language Phrase origin Usage Word origin Writing

‘Time to get up, you lot!’

Q: Do you think the British use of “you lot” as a second person plural pronoun has a link to the American use of “y’all”?

A: The Southern American regionalism “y’all” and the British colloquialism “you lot” are similar in that both can be used to mean “you all” in its traditional sense: “all of you.” However, the two usages differ in several ways.

As we say in a 2023 post, the uncontracted “you all” first appeared in Old English as eow ealle and referred to all of the people being addressed.

The “you all” spelling showed up in the 16th century and the contracted “y’all” in the 17th century with the same “all of you” sense, though the contraction was rarely used.

The regionalism “y’all” or “you-all” first appeared in the American South in the early 19th century and could refer to one or more people as well as others associated with the people addressed.

The British colloquialism “you lot” (often “all you lot”) appeared a century later, with the noun “lot” used to stress the plural sense of the pronoun “you.”

As the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “lot” here is used “to indicate or emphasize plural reference (in contrast to simple you, which may have either singular or plural reference).” Here’s the dictionary’s earliest citation:

“When the guard came to the top to collect the fares the girls there tendered their pennies. The guard declined them, explaining, ‘Your mother has paid for all you lot’ ” (The Manchester Guardian, Feb. 9, 1907).

The OED doesn’t directly link “you lot” to “y’all,” but it suggests that readers compare the British usage with the regionalisms “you-all” and “yous.” We’ve discussed “yous” and “youse” in several posts, most recently in 2011.

As for the noun “lot,” it has referred to a group of people since at least the 12th century. Here’s an example we’ve found in the Ormulum (circa 1175), a collection of early Middle English homilies:

“Þe maste lott tatt heȝhesst iss Iss þatt lærede genge” (“The great lot that is highest is the legion of the learned”).

The OED says this use of “lot” now usually refers to “a number of people associated in some way by the speaker or writer. The dictionary says the usage is “now colloquial and often depreciative.”

Getting back to “you lot,” the phrase is often negative, as in the second Oxford citation, which we’ve expanded, from D. H. Lawrence’s novel Sons and Lovers (1913):

“ ‘An’ is it goin’ to be wasted?’ said Morel. ‘I’m not such a extravagant mortal as you lot, with your waste. If I drop a bit of bread at pit, in all the dust an’ dirt, I pick it up an’ eat it.’ ”

We’ll end with a recent example of the usage that we found in a novel about the life of a young schoolteacher in a poor area of Birmingham in the 1930s:

“ ‘Time to get up, you lot!’  Mr Belcher had swung open the barn door and dusty rays streamed in. Joey could see the man’s round face beneath the brim of his hat, pink in the warmth. ‘Come on–shake a leg!’ ” (Miss Purdy’s Class, 2011, by Annie Murray).

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