Words we love: the case for “Ain’t”
By Chelsey Pippin, Editorial Consultant
We all know that the best ideas and revelations come to us in the shower. Many of us are also guilty of singing in said shower. Both of these clichés are important to note here because one of my biggest linguistic revelations came to me while singing in the shower. And here it is:
“Ain’t” is a great word actually.
Now, if even reading that made you cringe and brought you back to a childhood of being told off, maybe even smacked with a ruler, for not speaking or writing “properly,” I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve also been one of those really obnoxious kids who, to prove their mastery of the English language and therefore validate themselves as the writers they yearn to be, told other people off for not speaking or writing “properly.” To my past victims, I can only apologise.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that “ain’t” is the right word for every context. But let me ask you this: is ANY word the right word for every context? (The only right word in this particular context is “no,” by the way.)
Anyway, so there I was, singing in the shower. The song was King Princess’s “Ain’t Together” (a slow burning banger if I do say so myself) and the revelation happened like this:
Me, singing: We say I love you but we ain’t together…
Me, thinking: Ugh, I bet King Princess doesn’t use “ain’t” in real life. So many artists who use “ain’t” are probably just performative jerks who want to seem like they don’t CARE about grammar.
Me, singing: We say I love you but we AREN’T together…
Me, having my mind blown: AREN’T IS A TERRIBLE WORD TO TRY TO SING.
And there you have it, folks. Simple but inarguable. “Aren’t” is a terrible word to sing and a terrible word to listen to someone try to sing. You can’t make “aren’t” beautiful. “Isn’t” is even worse. Try it.
But “ain’t”? “Ain’t” is a bloody beautiful word to sing and to hear. I mean it. Scientifically speaking, it opens rather than constricts the vocal passage. You can do a gorgeous slide across several notes singing an “ain’t” (I mean I can’t, I am an amateur shower diva, but King Princess sure can.)
But “ain’t” doesn’t just work in a musical context. For many poets and writers, it’s a wonderful word to use, too – it affects character, rhythm, emphasis, the way a passage looks on a page.
It isn’t the word for every context (but like I said, what is?), but it ain’t the boogeyman our English teachers made it out to be either.