3

Watching the classic "All about Eve" I stumbled upon this sentence by Margo Channing:

Please don't play governess, Karen. I haven't your unyielding good taste. I wish I could have gone to Radcliffe too, but father wouldn't hear of it. He needed help behind the notions counter. I'm being rude now, aren't I? Or should I say, ain't I? [From Wikiquote]

I can't fully understand what she's saying with Or should I say, ain't I?

To me "aren't" and "ain't" have the same meaning (in that sentence). Is "ain't" more elegant or the other way around? Is she asking which word to use, pretending she doesn't even know English?

I hope the quotation is all you need to understand the sentence.

6

In the social standing of Karen in All About Eve, "aren't" is considered proper (ie standard) usage. So when "she" switches to "ain't I" she is using what Karen and most her ilk would consider the improper form. So, by using the so-called improper form, she is affirming, merely by changing to the "less elegant" word, that she is "being rude now."

"Aren't" and "Ain't" do have the same meaning in that sentence. She is not asking which word to use; she is deliberately using a word that she knows that Karen, who has "unyielding good taste," would find inelegant, objectionable, indicative of less education, and rude. So with one word, she assaults Karen's sophisticated tastes and, by the way, her Radcliffe education.

4

"ain't" is a colloquial version of "isn't" or "aren't", and is definitely not more elegant. Margo is being sarcastic about her own origins, which from context seem to have less prestige than those of Karen, so instead of using "correct" speech from a standard grammar point of view, she is using a colloquial, "more lowly" version.

  • Isn't aren't colloquial too? – Fabio F. Mar 9 '15 at 21:43
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    "aren't" is a contraction or "are not", and yes, I suppose it's found more often in colloquial speech than formal speech; however "ain't" is non-standard, whereas "aren't" is grammatically standard. Furthermore, for the purposes of making a question like "I'm rude, aren't I?", the contraction is the preferred form. I've literally never seen "are not I?" Here is more context: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tag_question#Tag_questions_in_English – RuslanD Mar 9 '15 at 22:13
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    Actually, "aren't I" is widely used but not a "real" contraction. After all, I am, you are, he is. So "aren't I?" is actually a replacement for "am I not?". – WhatRoughBeast Mar 9 '15 at 22:26
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    So actually, it should be "amn't" — but it ain't! – Brian Hitchcock Mar 10 '15 at 4:06

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