Monday, March 3, 2014

Writing 101: Why It's Okay to Use Ain't

I'll go toe-to-toe with any editor over words like "a lot" and "for ever," and I have, but there's one battle I'm never going to fight: ain't. This battle was lost long, long ago. So all writers are now obligated to wave the white flag...and use it in their novels.


A Lesson in Speaking History

The writers who hate the word ain't should turn to embrace it immediately -- because it was an author who originally popularized the word. Maybe if Charles Dickens had been a bit less successful, today's blog post would be about me baking cookies instead.

 
The word ain't, which is used as a contraction of are not or is not, dates back to the 1700s. But the word really caught fire due to Charles Dickens, who used it quite often in his stories involving Cockney London characters. This is still where you'll hear the word most often in the UK. In the United States, ain't most commonly appears in southern dialects. However, after all these centuries it's managed to catch on everywhere.

The word has become most famous for being wrong. Say it as a child, and someone will correct you with the classic line: "ain't isn't a word." But that's just not true. Ain't has made its way into the dictionary and into everyday speech, and that's why writers are obligated to include it in their books. That's why Charles Dickens used it in his. And when it comes to writing, following his lead ain't at all a bad way to go.

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