All I can say is: Wow. Really touched a nerve there, didn't I?
Jonathan is from Pittsburgh. His argument is partly that the word "y*nz" is inherently derogatory, but he's also making a kind of possessory argument -- that "y*nz" somehow "belongs" to long-time Pittsburghers and their families, and derogatory or not, "outsiders" can't and shouldn't appropriate the word. This is a cousin of the argument that African-Americans can use the word "n*gger" because they're appropriating and transforming its derogatory connotation; others can't, because they don't have the "insider" status that entitles them to make that linguistic move. Similarly, I live in Mt. Lebanon, but I'm not from this area. I'm "from" California; in a metaphoric sense, I'm an outsider, so I'm "stealing" a local word.
I find Mike’s way of provoking people into discussion to be less than honest. I also find it less than true to Pittsburgh, since we Pittsburghers are a blunt people. I could be wrong, but I can’t help but think that Mike has seen my Rant in the City Paper, in which I ripped on non-native journalists busting on this city and its people.
Well, I'm not sure what he means by "less than honest"; I thought I was being pretty up front, and the comments and commentary on a couple of other local blogs seemed to bear me out. (Maybe he means that I can't provoke unless I'm blunt? If I live in Pittsburgh I must talk or write as "true" Pittsburghers do? More on that thought in the last paragraph.) No, I hadn't read his Rant in the City Paper (at least, I hadn't until just now). And the implication that I'm a closet classist (or perhaps not such a closet classist?) because I live in Mt. Lebanon represents the worst kind of old Pittsburgh stereotyping. Lebo is far from perfect, but really, can't we all just get along?
I wouldn't write again just to respond to Jonathan. He's entitled to his opinion. But there is a somewhat larger point, and it goes to the complex relationship among language, culture, and change:
People who grew up here, in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, have to get used to the fact that there are an awful lot of us who live here but didn't grow up here. In fact, I'll go out on a short limb and argue that the economic future of the region depends on its ability to attract more in-bound immigrants, so the proportion of the region that isn't home-grown either grows, or the region continues to fade. The vast majority of the people I know who moved here from other places did it by choice, and are glad they did. Pittsburgh has its problems, but on the whole it's a great place.
But with new populations comes critical examination. Traditions, culture, language, all of which are things that may have survived and prospered within stable communities (and even defined those communities), get jostled around and sometimes scrutinized and disrupted. Language changes; meanings change. The flap over "y*nz" is an example of that (and this isn't the first time that I've stepped in this sort of thing). I'm not arguing that "y*nz" does or does not mean what Jonathan argues it has meant historically, but I am suggesting that people who live in Pittsburgh today (whether or not they were raised here) will decide what that word means, and they won't be bound by insistence on historical or cultural authenticity.
Language and culture are lived things; change happens. My guess is that "y*nz" ends up with multiple meanings, and that's the way it's going to be. (A morning update: In other words, I reject the "insider"/"outsider" distinction, and for that reason, I reject the comparison of "y*nz" to the N-word.) I'll plead guilty to not knowing all the nooks and crannies of Pittsburgh history, but not to being disingenuous about provoking a conversation about alleged classism. I don't speak or write as a "true" Pittsburgher speaks, whatever that means. So what? Pittsburgh is going to have more of this sort of thing (critique and conversation, I mean), and Pittsburgh is going to have to have it, if it's ever going to get itself going as a city.