Ain't ain't a word...right?

As plenty of people have pointed out, “ain’t” is certainly a word. The problem of when it should be used is a much more fraught issue, and one that tends to divide people.

For those who are interested, i’ve placed below the entry for “ain’t” from Bryan Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage, which is probably the best book on American usage currently in print.

I beg to differ.

If we take the original senternce “a pound of lead is heavier than a pound of feathers”, and, as suggested by the test, substitute ‘an ounce’ for ‘a pound’ we have an overall change of four words–a deletion of two words and replacement of two words. Thurman’s suggestion, that we delete ‘is’ and replace with ‘ain’t’, leaves us with overall change of two words. As the directions stipulate that we can only change one word, I think the only accurate solution is to insert ‘not’ directly after is. Thus the sentence would read “a pound of lead is not heavier than a pound of feathers.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I use “ain’t”, it’s usually in combination with an emphatic multiple negative, like the aforementioned “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet”, especially when contracted with “there” or “it” such as “th’ain’t” and “'tain’t”.

Multiple negatives were once a perfectly acceptable construction in English (check Shakespeare for some examples), as apparently was ain’t, so I guess I just tend toward archaicisms. But very rarely do I hear ain’t being used without another negative – “Th’ain’t any” is much rarer than “Th’ain’t none”. I wonder how the two are linked?

– Dragonblink, linguistics major

I enjoy annoying my kids by singing popular songs with “corrected” lyrics. “I cannot get any satisfaction”, “Don’t give me any of your aggravation / I’ve lost patience with your discipline” (Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting).


So why didn’t you correct “alright” to “all right”?

Irregardless of what you’ve been told, “ain’t” is a word.

Neither’s “irregardless” according to some folks, Pere.

Monty, i may be wrong, but i think that Pere’s winking smiley was meant to suggest that he’s aware of that.

Are you joking? I understand ‘Changing one word’ to generally mean altering, or replacing, one word. Eg. Canging ‘pound’ to ‘ounce’. Of course, it’s semantics, it depends whether you mean ‘word of the sentace’ or ‘word of the language’.

I’d answer:

is->isn’t (if contractions count as words)
pound [of lead]-> ton, tonne, kilogramme, litre
pound [of feathers]->pair, gram, milligram, litre
heavier->denser, smaller, >= (ok that’s cheating)

What!? And violate Gaudere’s law?

Some people say 'tain’t proper to use it, but you don’t gotta pay 'em no mind.

[ntipick] Wouldn’t “I’m typically not” be more precise than “I’m not typically”?[/nitpick] No, I’m being stupid.

Right. When I was growing up, “I ain’t got no … (whatevers)” was the preferred construction. Those who said things like “I don’t have any …” were looked on as pretentiously pedantic, although we didn’t use those exact words.