Noah Curry’s herds are perishing from an unrelenting drought. Bill Starbuck, a personable conman comes to town, assesses the situation and promises to make it rain.
Noah Curry: “We don’t believe in rainmakers.”
Bill Starbuck: “What DO you believe in, mistah? Dyin’ cattle?”
(The Rainmaker, 1956).
Burt Lancaster (Bill Starbuck) emphasizes the “do” in his line. A majority of Belizeans would, I suspect, come down hard on the “you” instead. That is because in Belize we have an unquenchable love affair with the emphatic “you.”
Here’s one of my fondest childhood remembrances: my first encounter with YOU.
A kinsman volunteered to sing at a school social in our village. The piece chosen was the 1953 Ames Brothers’ hit song, “You, You, You”. I remember the performance, not only because of the stellar display of talent, but also for the antics attendant on each enunciation of “you”: the singer’s finger was in stabbing mode (alternating from one hand to the next), as it followed his roving eyes around the room, seeking his “you’s”. Each time the word came out it was gutturally enhanced. At first it was a regular “you,” but as the song went on, they morphed into “YEW,” then to “YUGH!” A tremolo on the third “you” ended each line of “you’s.” It was a hilarious effort as the singer strove for variety, given the many “you’s” strung together.
I believe that almost forgotten performance in a small schoolhouse decades ago alerted me to this arcane liking we have for the revved up “YOU”: our advertisers, newscasters, politicians and yes, neighbors even—in fact anyone with an audience—cavalierly thrust caution aside and wait for a chance to put a pounce on any harmless, undeserving “you.”
The truth is that occasions calling for an emphatic “you” are far less frequent than we are prepared to concede. We need that YEW and its escalated “cous” YUGH, to express bewilderment (“Yew? The winner?”); a threat (“YEW will be hearing from me, Mister!”); impatience (“How could YUGH, of all people?”); intolerance (“And I’m telling YEW, for the last time…”). We employ it to get attention (“YUGH, thief! Stop I say!”); convey shock (“Not YUGH!”); vent belligerence (“Come here, YUGH!”); and intimidate (“Later, I will deal with YEW!”).
What this suggests is that the emphatic “you” is best reserved for situations containing negative feelings. Thus, I would avoid saying, “Merry Christmas to YEW,” or, “I’m glad that YEW won the medal!” When Caesar rails against his friend’s betrayal, it is with a barely audible, “And you too, Brutus?” Then, after King David’s conspiracy led to the death of Bathsheba’s husband, he agonized before God: “Against You, You only, have I sinned!” (NIV). And finally, there’s really no need for emphasis when a motivational speaker at a rally enjoins the crowd, saying to them: “…only you can!” (Underlines indicate where I think emphases belong.)
I used to think of this quirk of speech as something typically Belizean. All that changed, however, with an insurance ad that aired recently on a major American network: “We searched the market,” crooned the ad man with little credulity, “so we could get YUGH—the company with the best rates.” The long, misplaced and confusing pause after YUGH was just salt to the wound.
Seems like my kinsman’s muddling over all those “you’s” in a song from a male quartet, was more endemic than I could have known back then. And our handling of the little pronoun has not been any better!