and Seth Katz, eds. Newcastle-on-Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015.
The word ain’t is used by speakers of all dialects and sociolects of English. Nonetheless,
language critics view ain’t as marking speakers as “lazy” or “stupid”; and the educated
assume ain’t is on its deathbed, used only in clichés. Everyone has an opinion about ain’t.
Even the grammar-checker in Microsoft Word flags every ain’t with a red underscore. But why?
Over the past 100 years, only a few articles and sections of books have reviewed the history
of ain’t or discussed it in dialect contexts. This first book-length collection specifically
dedicated to this shibboleth provides a multifaceted analysis of ain’t in the history and
grammar of English; in English speech, writing, television, comics and other media; and in
relation to the minds, attitudes, and usage of speakers and writers of English from a range
of regions, ethnicities, social classes, and dialect communities. Most articles in the
collection are accessible for the average educated speaker, while others are directed primarily
at specialists in linguistic study – but with helpful explanations and footnotes to make these
articles more approachable for the layperson. This collection of articles on ain’t thus provides
a broad audience with a rich understanding and appreciation of the history and life of this taboo word.
“For students of the English language, this is the most enlightening and comprehensive set of essays ever
compiled on the iconic word ain’t. It brings together the multifaceted ways in which a shibboleth of language
functions socially and linguistically, from its social and stylized use in a full range of situations and
genres to its intricate and complex linguistic composition and patterning. An extraordinary contribution to the field!”
William C. Friday Distinguished University Professor, North Carolina State University
“Asked what ain’t was by a foreigner, most English speakers would say it’s ‘just slang,’ a “mistake”
permissible only amidst relaxation, used more widely only by the ignorant. Ain’thology sets us straight:
ain’t’s history reaches back into the beginnings of English as we know it, it has often been used by
thoroughly elegant persons, and it is subject to grammatical rules as complex as the ones that determine
when a French person uses the subjunctive. Ain’t is so complicated that it takes legions of scholars to
figure it all out, and in this book we hear from no fewer than seventeen of them.”
Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
Author of The Power of Babel, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue and The Language Hoax