“Hey, y’all, somebody needs to make the fish tacos. Who knows how?” My cousins’ eyes all zeroed in on me.

“Who’s y’all?” I wondered. With an apron on and cilantro and cumin in hand, I was whipping up Mexican rice and beans. In the first few days at a women cousins’ reunion, I had shown my skill cooking from scratch. When the electricity had gone out at a cousin’s farm, the hungry crowd was wowed when I whipped out a camp stove and prepared a full meal without breaking into a sweat.

As the only one of thirteen women first cousins who was raised out West, I spent about three weeks trying to figure out the proper use of “y’all.” Did it mean “you,” “everyone,” or “none of the above?”

“Y’all come in! Dinner’s ready, and we’re glad you’re here!”

“Hurry up, y’all, take the picture! I’m bent over like a bobby-pin!”

And on the radio, “Head down to Get Y’all Fashion for the ‘Foth’ of July sale!”

Linguists have taken sides nearly as vehemently as in a country feud. Some oppose “y’all,” saying that it is not correct English, while others demand it be accepted. Though “y’all” originated from the south, people who have mastered its use move around enough that “y’all” has been included in conversation all over the U.S.

After much Southern hospitality from cousins and family, I believe I now know what “y’all” means – an enthusiastic welcome, as in “Come in! Are you hungry?” Or, “I made southern b-b-q for just for you.” It translates to smiles and a place to stay. It offers love to extended family, reaching out with time and a hearty welcome.

“Y’all” knots love and welcome together just like Jesus’ words: “Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)

So, y’all, how are you doing at that?

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles, keep checking  her weekly blog on Button-to-God.com.]