This week Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was thrown out of a game. When later asked by a reporter for details he replied, “I don’t need to talk about that. Ain’t no sense in saying that.”
That was the first time I heard anyone say “ain’t” in probably fifty years. (Charlie may have used “ain’t” for effect, as society people did in the 1920s.)
Apparently, I used to say it frequently. When I was about the age of third grade, I remember my parents trying to break me of the habit of saying “ain’t,” particularly in the phrase, “I ain’t got no . . .” that had the additional error of a double negative. They hounded me for about a year over it, but successfully, because, today, I cannot imagine ever saying it. Even when looking at old photos of myself then, I can’t imagine that little boy (cute as the dickens) talking like that, not that it was evil or immoral, just strange, like speaking in Dutch.
“Ain’t” is simply a contraction of “are/is not” that avoids specifying the plural or singular, but is otherwise an unnecessary addition to the English vocabulary with no special meaning, unlike “huba-huba,” another slang expression long gone.
None of my relatives used “ain’t,” so I must have learned it from my peers, but I do not remember any of them saying it either, neither Eddie Vetter nor Bill Scott who lived down the street, nor Sam Lord who lived down the street and around the corner, nor Carl Faix, nor Armand Hagopian, nor Arthur Shena who lived one street over. But some of them must have used it too, or they would have commented on my strange way of talking, and that I would remember.
Of course, the kids in the Our Gang” movies frequently used “ain’t,” as did child actor Jackie Cooper and Wallace Beery in “The Champ,” but those movies were old even when I was young.
So whatever happened to “ain’t?” My theory is that we picked it up just as it was phasing out of the general vocabulary. It was primarily a rural expression and rural life was waning. Until Charlie, I have not heard anyone use it at all since, not even in high school when we all learned a new vocabulary guaranteed to shock an adult much more than “ain’t.” And none of you classmates grew up to be baseball managers.