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On 'Yinz' and the Value of Being 'Blue-Collar'

by on March 15, 2016 1:00 AM
State College, PA

How was that spring break? Getting a little sun and using air-conditioning for a few days has a way of rejuvenating the mind and body. Then it’s always nice to return to our slice of heaven here in Happy Valley, even if it does come with a little rain and the need for a coat or two.

Way back in the mid-1980’s my wife and I moved away from our central Pennsylvania roots for warmer climes and different opportunities. Returning 20 years later to Centre County provided us with a slew of “A-ha” moments – those singular instances where you find yourself thinking, “A-ha, that’s something we haven’t experienced in a while – now we know we’re back home!”

For example, when the first day of deer season rolls around and the public schools are closed. Or when we see a pickup truck with the vanity license plate “BMBI KLR” (I have a hard time imagining that on an Audi in any traditional “blue-state” enclave). Or when we are introduced to people and asked variations of the question, “Yinz from up ‘ere at State?” or “Yinz from over College?”

For those friendly queries we always understand exactly what the questioner is asking and are able to correctly respond, “Yep.” However it was recently pointed out to me that this regional colloquialism of “yinz” has been co-opted. Apparently being a "Yinzer" is now a “thing.” A thing, I am told, that identifies someone as being from Pittsburgh.

I doth protest.

I can count on one hand the number of times I have been to Pittsburgh in my life. Not that I haven’t wanted to go there, I just rarely have a reason to, although I very much look forward to the day Joe Battista gives me the special “locals-only” tour with all the appropriate cuisine and beverages included. But as for people who incorporate “yinz” into their speech, I learned the beauty of yinz at an early age living in central Pennsylvania. And I didn’t hear it from transplanted Pittsburghers.

My immediate geographic heritage is from coal-country. That's Anthracite coal – the real deal – not that bituminous stuff some dig up. The folks from those hills and hollers used numerous contractions in their conversation. My personal favorite was “hain’t.” As in, “Hain’t got none,’ or, “Hain’t eaten yet.” Yinz was a healthy part of the dialect diet as well.

According to the sources who co-opted the term Yinzer, it seems that Pittsburgh Yinzers are being characterized as blue-collar and the term sometimes carries some negative connotations. The people I know wear many different color collars and a negative connotation with blue-collar work doesn’t make sense or ring true to me.

You see, blue-collar work tends to make individuals more self-sufficient.

Hungry? Blue-collar workers grow some food – tomatoes, corn, potatoes, mushrooms. They’ll get some eggs from chickens, milk from cows, slaughter a pig for bacon. Tired of domesticated food? They’ll hunt down a deer, field-dress it and return with venison.

Cold? They’ll build a house and any other structures you need -- barn, garage, shed, outhouse. They'll heat it with a coal-fired or wood-burning stove and a fireplace. Dig a well and install plumbing.

Transportation? They understand the workings of an internal combustion engine and prefer diesel because it doesn’t require spark plugs. They can fix trucks, tractors and cars. Double-clutch a Kenworth. Build a canoe, rowboat and barge. Saddle a horse.

Self-sufficiency. And in light of today’s ever-advancing society it may be pretty darn important.

Every day there are new dire pronouncements in the media. Massive climate issues will cause life as we know it to change drastically in the coming decades. The nuclear-bomb scares of my youth are still around, just with different players. Global warming. Nuclear winter. Governments clashing and humanity suffering.

Lots of doom and gloom. And our technology is a double-edged sword. The world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says that artificial intelligence can mean the end of humanity. The computers and machines we build today could someday take over and find little use or need for humans. Think of science-fiction movies such as Terminator or I Robot.

What were to happen if any of these doomsday predictions come to pass? Whose skills will be valued and who would you want along with you when the world as we know it becomes a wasteland? The people in blue-collar jobs, that’s who. As Pigpen says, “Sort of makes you want to treat me with more respect, doesn't it?”

So the next time someone asks you, “Yinz from up at State?” be sure to reply, “Thank you for asking. Why yes I am. And yinz from down Moun Chunion?”

 



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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