"Ain't" ain't a word?

Does anyone know any history to explain why a perfectly useful contraction for “am not” became nonstandard, and why it’s now so heavily associated with a lack of education? “I’m not” seems to fill the void well enough for declarative sentences, but in questions, we’re left choosing between the illogical and somewhat awkward “aren’t I” and the extremely awkward “am I not”. I’m wondering if anyone knows when and why “ain’t” first came to be condemned, since it’s still used in a huge portion of the English-speaking world.

<10 year old Captain Amazing stands up>

Don’t say ain’t
or your mother will faint.
Your father will fall in a bucket of paint.
Your sister will cry,
Your brother will die,
And your dog will be arrested by the FBI.

<10 year old Captain Amazing sits down>

I always figured that those were the reasons we stopped saying it.

I don’t know the exact reason why, but I do know that the forms of “to be” get awfully wiggly between the first and second person in other situations, too. Besides the “aren’t I” situation, there is “if I were you,” which is a hyper-correction, and, in many eighteenth-century texts you can read “if you was etc…”

The reason that “ain’t” is so widely decried is that it’s NOT just a contraction for “am not”; most times I’ve heard it used as a substitute for “isn’t” and “aren’t.”

Sattua, can you explain why you say that “If I were you…” is a hypercorrection, and not a correct use of the subjunctive?

Probably becuase the “proper” contraction is “amn’t”. I suspect that “amn’t” sounds unnatural in some accents and therefore was changed to “ain’t”. That’s just a WAG though.

Ain’t was a word that lost out on the race to get into dictionaries until relatively recent times. Therefore, the pseudo-pedants reasoned, it must be an inferior regional dialect confined to the ignorant of the American Southeast and woefully incorrect.

Which is complete and utter bilge.

It emerged in the late 18th century as a contraction of am not, displacing an earlier form an’t. It was contemporaneous, therefore, with don’t, won’t, and a number of other common contractions. However, ain’t got singled out in the 19th century for being an ignorant and vulgar contraction, whereas a lot of its contemporaries were accepted without question. After a few decades of not appearing in the major dictionaries, you can understand the stigma the little word faced. Ain’t wasn’t stamped out, of course, being too useful and too easy to say with a Southern accent to be lost completely. :wink: Now, with the move away from prescriptivism and towards descriptivism, ain’t is moving from a common word (common as in widely used and common as in low-class) to an accepted word.

And that ain’t no lie. :wink:

My source

dylan_73: Amn’t was used, briefly, but it’s extinct now. For obvious reasons (English, unlike Czech, has no love for consonant clusters).

So much for that priggy “It’s not in the dictionary” rejoinder.

** Derleth**: Umm…“amn’t” ain’t extinct. :wink: It’s what I’ve always heard and said myself. It is true that it’s not a word I’ve commonly seen written though. Mind you, I’m from NW Scotland so it may be peculiar to that region. I’ll try an office survey tomorrow (going home now).

‘Correct’ or not, “ain’t” and “int” crop up in a huge variety of English (ie frorm England) accents. Possibly this causes it to be looked down upon as a ‘non-standard’ word.

Pretty much what other people have said in this thread, but here’s a detailed article on “Ain’t.”

I think Nametag gives some reason for problems with this little word. Ain’t seems to have formed via amn’t from am not, but its use is has blurred into is not and are not. My strongest thought when I hear ain’t is from its use in South Pacific song ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ where ain’t is used instead of is not. So ain’t the problem that this word is likely to be missunderstoon, or ain’t I making myself clear.

[2 Cents]

Amn’t is also used widely in Dublin.

[/2 Cents]

South Pacific? You mean there’s another song by that title, or are you thinking of Porgy and Bess?

In rural New England, it is (or at least was, in my youth) not uncommon to hear people use the expression “so don’t I”, where the context would clearly indicate that “so do I” was the appropriate expression.

I never really understood why this was used, and I do not often hear it any more.

Doh! Porgy and Bess it was.