Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri May 4 15:10:16 UTC 2001

>Does anyone know the origin of the term "Yo" as used as a greeting?
>Could it possibly have derived from the word *you*?

(1) "Yo" [multipurpose interjection] = "hey": given by OED from as early as
1420 (as "3aw" ["3" = yogh])

(2) "Walyo" [term of address] = "young man", prob. < Italian (dialect
[e.g., maybe Lucano?]) "uaglio" = "boy"

(3) "Yo" [response] = "yes"/"present" [military etc. from WW II or earlier]
[I speculate < "yeah"/"yes" altered for loud utterance]

(4) "Yo" = dialect version of "you", "your", and probably "y'all"

(5) "Yo" < Spanish term of address "yo": asserted in the Cassell dictionary
[I'm not familiar with this, but I am familiar with a multipurpose
interjection "Coño!" with last-syllable stress ...]

The late-20th-century use as a [masculine] greeting may come from a
conflation of any or all of these. My personal experience would favor a
significant heritage from number (3) but I feel sure that at least (1) and
(4) are significantly involved also: one reinforces the other.

Chapman's slang dictionary says "yo" as a greeting dates from 1859. The
origin of this would be limited to (1) and possibly (4), I think, but I'm
not sure that this "yo" is continuous with the modern one.

Some of the experts may be able to correct me.

-- Doug Wilson

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