Antedating of "yeah" - sort of

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Jun 8 13:53:20 UTC 2006

OK, I've simmered down. %@$$@^^^ computer !  The rest of the story is that John J. Omenhausser was a Confederate soldier who was a PW at the Union prison at Port Lookout, Md. Shortly before or after his release in 1865, Omenhausser created a book of cartoon watercolors that he titled "True Sketches and Sayings of Rebel Characters in the Port Lookout Prison, Maryland."   You can see images of many of Omenhausser's sketches here :

  Too bad they're reproduced so small that you can't read the captions for yourself, even when you "enlarge" the images.  The online material appears to come from a version  called "Rebel Prison Scenes. Point Lookout Maryland 1864."  I don't see the sketch in question there.

  Obsolete technology to the rescue, at least in this instance. Fourteen of Omenhausser's cartoons appear in the Time-Life volume, _Tenting Tonight_ (Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life, 1984), pp. 136-43. One sketch (p. 140) shows, first, a pair of rebel prisoners undergoing punishment by carrying the ball and chain while dressed solely in long underwear. One says, "If we hadn't been a pair of fools, we'd never got in this fix."  An armed guard, looking on, says, "Yeah !  Yeah !  Barnum ought to have them fellers in his show. I think they'd pay well."

  And that should be that, lexicographically speaking, except that a third prisoner, wearing a barrel inscribed "Petty Thief," responds, "I don't see what that nigger sees to laugh at, I don't think this is so very amusing."

  So "Yeah ! Yeah !" appears to be more of a representation of African-American laughter than a genuine occurrence of the affirmative "yeah !" though it certainly might be.

  OED makes no comment on any possible relationship between modern "yeah" (or equivalent spellings "yeah," "yare," etc.) and ancient "yea" - used, of course, not in ritualized discourse but in the everyday language of normal people.



Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam?  Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list