If you flinch whenever you hear someone address a group as "youse", consider that it's you, not the speaker, who's the uneducated, ignorant one.
Are you still there? Great! Now let me tell you why this is so.
In standard English, you is both singular and plural. While that may seem unremarkable to you (that’s you sitting in your seat, and all of you collectively), it separates English from many other languages that do distinguish the singular and plural forms.
It also distinguishes standard English from its many non-standard forms. “Hey youse!” is a perfectly sensible way for the speaker to make it clear that he’s addressing the whole group, not just one person. Likewise with “y’all”, “youse guys” (New York mainly) and “yinz” (Pennsylvania).
It also makes the speaker more consistent than everyone else. Standard English already distinguishes between I and we, and between him/her and them. You is the only personal pronoun with just the one form for both singular and plural. But having a separate form for each would be useful, no?
In fact, we once did. Early English had thou, singular, and ye, plural (hence "hear ye, hear ye"). After the Norman invasion, thou gradually became a familiar form of address, and you a formal, deferential option. So if you were chatting with the king, he’d say “Would thou like a bowl of maggot-infested gruel?” and you would grovellingly reply “If it pleases you, Your Majesty”.
Then, around the 18th century, thou began to fall out of favour. The reasons are not entirely clear, but some commentators invoke an emerging spirit of egalitarianism.
Either way, that left you to do the heavy lifting for both singular and plural references. And the so-called uneducated masses to do something about it by newly inventing plural versions. Good for them, I say, the clever Dicks.
Youse may not be standard English, but it's certainly neat, clean and logical. You don’t have to like it, but heaping scorn on it is both illogical and unjust.
Popular theory has it that this little gem of a word was coined by Theodor Geisel, aka Dr Seuss, in his 1950 book If I Ran the Zoo. That may be a stretch, however. While Dr Seuss almost certainly played a key role - if not the key role - in popularising nerd, the word had been around for a few years already as a variation on nert, which itself was a humorous pronunciation of nut.
In If I Ran the Zoo, nerds are what the Oxford Words blog describes as "small, unkempt, humanoid creature[s] with a large head and a comically disapproving expression". Some would argue that the word's meaning hasn't altered since, but try telling that to Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg during the job interview.
Related insulty type words include geek and the rather aggressive nimrod. Geek originally meant a sideshow freak (hence Bob Dylan's lyric "you hand in your ticket / to go see the geek"), which possibly derived from the German geck, to mock or cheat. The modern sense of a social misfit with advanced computer skills dates from the early 1980s. Like nerd, geek has been reclaimed by those who've been labelled with the term, which makes it a kissing cousin of words like gay, dyke, queer and even some racially abusive terms which we won't repeat here.
Nimrod, on the other hand, was the son of Cush, referred to in Genesis as "a mighty hunter before the Lord". How the name became an insult is a mystery, although various theories have been suggested - none of them convincing. Whatever the case, one thing you can be sure of is that if anyone calls you a nimrod today, they're not expressing their admiration for your impressive pedigree.
POSTSCRIPT: I wrote this article originally in 2013. Today I received an email newsletter from World Wide Words that addressed Nimrod's fall from grace and may render my claim in the paragraph above redundant. You can find the WWW piece here.
One of the skills many people find most challenging is apologising.
It’s also one of the most important skills in business - if not in life. A good apology leaves everyone satisfied and clears a space to move forward. A weak apology, on the other hand, can leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the recipient - a lingering resentment and belief that you were simply trying to look good, rather than take responsibility for whatever required the apology in the first place.
A powerful apology does four things:
A powerful apology does NOT:
Some years ago I was in a media conference with a leading advertising agency. A reporter asked the GM why the agency had recently lost a big account. The GM began talking about “chemistry” and other meaningless concepts. The MD stepped in and said “we lost the account because we stopped listening.” Boom.
That’s how a powerful apology works. No excuses. No blame. Full responsibility.
Then everyone’s free to move on.