"ain't" in Merriam-Webster's and mention of "Black English".

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Mega85
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"ain't" in Merriam-Webster's and mention of "Black English".

Postby Mega85 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 3:56 pm UTC

There was a petition to remove the reference of "Black English" from Merriam-Webster's definition of "ain't" because it was viewed as offensive and discriminatory.

https://www.change.org/p/promoting-educ ... topic_page

Looks like the petition was successful. References to "Black English" have been removed from Merriam-Webster's entry for "ain't".

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ain't

This is what the entry for "ain't" was before the references to "Black English" were removed.

https://books.google.com/books?id=TAnhe ... 22&f=false

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Re: "ain't" in Merriam-Webster's and mention of "Black English".

Postby Derek » Thu Aug 31, 2017 4:28 pm UTC

It should be noted that the qualifier was only applied to sense 3: "Do not, does not, did not." My personal experience is that this usage of "ain't" is much more common among black speakers.

Dialectical differences in meaning are often mentioned in dictionaries, and to claim that there are no differences between AAVE and other English accents would be incorrect and even erasing of it's unique identity. Merriam-Webster's response seems to have been to completely remove the sense from their definition, which I do not think is not an improvement to the dictionary.

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Re: "ain't" in Merriam-Webster's and mention of "Black English".

Postby eSOANEM » Thu Aug 31, 2017 4:51 pm UTC

Referring to AAVE as "Black English" is kinda shitty though. Not all black English-speakers (even all black Americans) primarily speak AAVE (there's also some potential evidence that AAVE is not definitively african-american but rather associated with very poor southern communities with the racial correlation appearing naturally as a result of systematic inequalities) and given the social stigma attached to it, acting as if it is universal amongst black people's going to lead to some unfortunate inferences.

What should have happened is relabelling that particular usage as being AAVE (or dialectal, possibly with some expansion on the class and regional variation)
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Mega85
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Re: "ain't" in Merriam-Webster's and mention of "Black English".

Postby Mega85 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 4:54 pm UTC

Yeah, it seems like there was a misconception among the people doing the petition that it was referring to all the uses of the word "ain't", not just the third sense.

Dictionary.com includes "do not, does not, did not" in its entry for "ain't", but it says "in some dialects" not "in Black English".

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/ain-t?s=t
Last edited by Mega85 on Thu Aug 31, 2017 5:47 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: "ain't" in Merriam-Webster's and mention of "Black English".

Postby heuristically_alone » Thu Aug 31, 2017 4:56 pm UTC

In middle school there was this phase where nearly everybody used "ain't" all the time. Though I believe it was because of this one mean english teacher that absolutely hated it.

It was also a somewhat common word in old musicals in the mid 20th century, which is primarily white actors.
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Re: "ain't" in Merriam-Webster's and mention of "Black English".

Postby Eebster the Great » Thu Aug 31, 2017 6:48 pm UTC

I haven't got a nickel, I ain't got a lousy dime. If she don't come back, I think I'm gonna lose my mind. If she ever come back to stay, it's gonna be another brand new day, walkin' with my baby down by San Francisco Bay.

I think the broad definition of "ain't" to include "has not," "have not," "was not," "were not," and especially "do not," and "does not" are significantly more dialectically restricted than "am not," "is not," and "are not." The latter three are extremely common and widespread around the world. The others seem to be predominantly AAVE.

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Re: "ain't" in Merriam-Webster's and mention of "Black English".

Postby Mega85 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 11:20 pm UTC

The petition

Most of us have been taught at a young age not to use “ain’t” because it is not proper English. Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a reference trusted by millions of people, defines “ain’t” as am not, are not, and is not. Sounds simple enough, but investigate further and you will see that its definition is offensive and prejudiced.

Definition of AIN'T:
do not: does not: did not —used in some varieties of Black English

The definition goes on to state, “although widely disapproved as nonstandard and more common in the habitual speech of the less educated…”
So the question becomes what is Black English, who speaks Black English and how does it correspond to the word, “ain’t”?

Definition of BLACK ENGLISH:

A nonstandard variety of English spoken by some African-Americans —called also Black English vernacular
We, the undersigned, request for Merriam-Webster to modify the definition of the word “ain’t”, removing the reference to Black English and its use by those less educated for the following reasons:

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary's description of “ain’t” states it is used in Black English, spoken by African Americans, and described as a nonstandard language used by those less educated which is offensive and discriminatory.

“Ain’t” is currently one of the top 10% of words searched in the dictionary and used by people from many different ethnicities not just African-Americans.
A word by definition should not be used in a disparaging manner to stereotype or incite prejudice towards a particular group of people.
Allowing even one single word to advocate prejudice will only perpetuate the type of discriminatory behavior that continues to affect African Americans and people who are perceived as less educated!!

We are concerned citizens. Sign this petition today and let your voice be heard!! Together we can impact change to create a positive perspective free from discrimination!!!

“Words used carelessly, as if they did not matter in any serious way, often allowed otherwise well-guarded truths to seep through.”― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

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Re: "ain't" in Merriam-Webster's and mention of "Black English".

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri Sep 01, 2017 3:37 am UTC

It does sound like they misconstrued the "Black English" assignment as applying to the entire word rather than just to that particular sense. If M-W had indeed assigned it that way, it would clearly have been a huge and uncharacteristic blunder, but it sounds like they didn't. That said, it's also possible that I (and they) are wrong even about the specific sense of "do(es) not," in which case the change is correct.

The whole thing is odd though. M-W never claimed that people who used "ain't" were less educated, only that the word was frequently (and inaccurately) derided as being a sign of a lack of education, which is certainly true. M-W's usage notes go on to describe the word's widespread use across media and certainly does not support the proscription. The petition leaves these points out.

EDIT: The petition apparently got only 67 signatures. Are you sure this is why it was changed? The site now seems to have just deleted the "do(es) not" sense entirely.

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Re: "ain't" in Merriam-Webster's and mention of "Black English".

Postby Mega85 » Fri Sep 01, 2017 7:00 am UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:It does sound like they misconstrued the "Black English" assignment as applying to the entire word rather than just to that particular sense. If M-W had indeed assigned it that way, it would clearly have been a huge and uncharacteristic blunder, but it sounds like they didn't. That said, it's also possible that I (and they) are wrong even about the specific sense of "do(es) not," in which case the change is correct.

The whole thing is odd though. M-W never claimed that people who used "ain't" were less educated, only that the word was frequently (and inaccurately) derided as being a sign of a lack of education, which is certainly true. M-W's usage notes go on to describe the word's widespread use across media and certainly does not support the proscription. The petition leaves these points out.

EDIT: The petition apparently got only 67 signatures. Are you sure this is why it was changed? The site now seems to have just deleted the "do(es) not" sense entirely.


I don't know. Maybe they just changed it by coincidence, rather than because of the petition.

Here are some comments in the Seen or Heard part of the "ain't" entry.

REALLY! Merrian-Webster? You define the word "Ain't" as "commonly used in some varieties of Black English" and then follow with an explanation that it is "...most common in the habitual speech of the less educated." WOW! Maybe I am reading into this a little too much - but it just sounds wrong.


My kids informed me that "ain't" is a word, so I looked it up in THE dictionary...but I had no idea I would find that it is "used in some varieties of Black English"...like white people don't use this word. I'm feeling some kind of way...and then I was enlightened further that "Black English" is an actual term for the way black people talk...WOW!


I guess I might be black from this definition. And I am less educated for using ain't. Good Lord! Now I know where my life went wrong.


This definition is making me madder by the second! First of all what is "Black English?" Secondly, where do they teach you that because I certainly have never learned it as a language or anywhere else! Is this the new PC term for Ebonics? Lastly, by definition black = bad, so why not say bad english? Is it "cleaned up" by calling it nonstandard? Or is it infact the way it seems & meant to reflect race/ethnicity thus calling blacks &/or "black english" speakers less educated? How did this discussion make it? And who wrote it?


I don't like the part in the definition which says 'more common in the habitual speech of the less educated', which is clearly just reflecting a stereotype. The word 'ain't' has been part of my lexicon, and part of many other people's vocabularies where I come from - among lower, middle and upper classes. I wouldn't write it in a formal situation... but it's clearly part of common dialect that was persecuted by prescriptivism, and definitely not an indicator of lower education levels.


#3: : do not : does not : did not —used in some varieties of Black English

That doesn't sound stereotypical at all *rolls eyes*.

Side note: Is there a yellow, brown, green, red, blue, purple, pink, or orange English? If so, please inform the masses.


Is this the Sacalia definition of Ain't? "used in some varieties of Black English " "Although widely disapproved as nonstandard and more common in the habitual speech of the less educated..." Webster revision on page 17 for racisit definitions....thank you.


Americans always trying to divide races with stupid subliminal messages like "Black English" and then linking it to being less educated. Truth of the matter is, the word was/is highly used in the southern states and spread throughout the country with the migration of blacks after the Emancipation. Who talk early black americans english ??? So how in the hell is it "BLACK" english.........SMMFH

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Eebster the Great
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Re: "ain't" in Merriam-Webster's and mention of "Black English".

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri Sep 01, 2017 10:23 pm UTC

Those comments make me angry in all kinds of ways. Why would you assume that calling something "Black English" is insulting?

Mega85
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Re: "ain't" in Merriam-Webster's and mention of "Black English".

Postby Mega85 » Fri Sep 01, 2017 10:40 pm UTC

The usage of "ain't" for "did not" as in "I ain't get there on time" meaning "I didn't get there on time" does seem to be mainly an AAVE thing. Maybe some other dialects use "ain't" this way too, but most dialects that have "ain't" don't use it this way.


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