I enjoyed this exchange on the use of ain’t in Annie Proulx’s story ‘The Mud Below’, from her fine collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories. Diamond, a young rodeo bullrider, is visiting his home and talking with Pearl, his ten-year-old-brother:
Diamond fried two eggs in butter and ate them out of the pan, fried two more. He looked for coffee but there was only the jar of instant dust.
“I’m going to get a buckle like yours when I’m eighteen,” Pearl said. “And I’m not going to get bucked off because I’ll hold on with the grip of death. Like this.” And he made a white-knuckled fist.
“This ain’t a terrific buckle. I hope you get a good one.”
“I’m going to tell Momma you said ‘ain’t.’”
“For Christ sake, that’s how everybody talks. Except for one old booger steer roper. I could curl your hair. And I ain’t foolin. You want an egg?”
“I hate eggs. They aren’t good for you. Ain’t good for you. How does the old booger talk?”
In a few words (Ain’t good for you) we see a child spontaneously adopt a previously unavailable piece of grammar. Ain’t isn’t part of my dialect: Hiberno-English amn’t, with which it shares an ancestor, covers a lot of that ground. But I ain’t averse to it, and I use it occasionally.
Incidentally, I’m using a new version of Microsoft Word, and it red-lined ain’t in the draft of this post. Having added the word to my previous dictionary years ago, I’d forgotten that the unfortunate stigma against it extends even there, and probably helps perpetuate it.