Ain’t isn’t OK

Is it ever ok to use the word ain’t?

As I was interviewing a professional wellness coach for a feature article, we both agreed it is a “hillbilly” word. We were sort of right, sort of wrong. In fact, the word ain’t is a “contraction of a negated auxiliary verb.” And while this contraction of a negated auxiliary verb is widely used by many people, including lots of my co-workers and some of my children’s childcare providers, it is still considered improper.

There are times when we seem to be ok with people using the word ain’t. We give people a pass only when we are sure they know better. Musicians love the punch provided by the word ain’t. Sheryl Crow croons “This ain’t no disco…” and Bob Dylan “ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more.” Ain’t is almost never appropriate in formal business communications, but marketers and advertisers use it freely to grab attention and create memorable messaging. The use of ain’t in songs and advertising rarely lowers the perception of the artist or product, as long as the audience knows it is an intentional violation of proper English. Improper it may be, but it ain’t going away.

It’s when people use it and don’t know they shouldn’t, that they begin to look uneducated and potentially less reliable, their ideas less valuable. Hearing a co-worker use it while trying to express herself in a departmental meeting made me doubt anyone would take her point seriously. I always wondered if I should have mentioned that she used the word, and encouraged her to avoid it in very public situations like that. Small language mistakes can undermine the overall message and eventually hurt your professional communications and image.

So, follow your mother’s advice and think before you speak. And if you ain’t got nothing good to say, don’t say nothing at all.