flay / flea (and other "ea" words)

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 19 20:46:43 UTC 2009

Back in the day, ca.1940-50, at least, both "yea!" and "hurrah!"
occurred in the funnybooks of the day. I've been racking my brain for
years, since the last time that _yea hurrah_ came up, to remember the
name of a comic-book hero who was an Ivy-League (or maybe it was a St.
Grotlesex) school athlete. Or maybe he was a military-academy athlete.
The stadiums often resounded with *yea!* and "hurrah!* and "Yea,
team!" fell trippingly from the tongues of the (always-male)

The closest that I've been able to come is something like "Don
Winslow," except that I clearly remember that he was "of the Navy."

Got damp in the basement, but it didn't get wet! The frustration!

Perhaps I should mention that this is a euphemism for "God damn it!"
and "I don't give a Roosevelt dime" is a euphemism for "I don't give a
damn." I get the impression that this is less than obvious to some
readers. The use of "Roosevelt" instead of "Liberty-head /
Mercury-head dime"-provides a kind of dating, since, IME, the forms
appeared virtually simultaneously.


On Fri, Jun 19, 2009 at 11:43 AM, Charles Doyle<cdoyle at uga.edu> wrote:
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> Sender: Â  Â  Â  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Â  Â  Â  Charles Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU>
> Subject: Â  Â  Â flay / flea (and other "ea" words)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> In my Shakespeare class this morning, discussing _King Lear_, I got to wondering out loud why the _Riverside Shakespeare_ , which professes to show modernized spellings, gives the verb "flay" as "flea"--thereby ensuring that most students will mispronounce and therefore misunderstand the word: "With her nails / She'll flea thy wolvish visage" (1.4.307-08).
> I took the occasion (a "teachable moment," in the current cliche) to ask the old favorite history-of-the-language "trivia" question: Â What four common current English words have that "ea" vowel spelling and preserve the pronunciation /e/?
> The first answer proffered--to wide concurrence among the (female) students--was "shea butter." Â I had to be informed that the term designates a substance or ingredient for skin softening.
> Gotta work on my vocabulary skills . . . .
> --Charlie
> P.S. Â When we got to the word "yea," the students clamorously asserted that the word is spelled "yay." Â Of course, many of the traditional uses of "yea" are obsolete, but is "yay" (so common in youthful e-mails as a general signifier of approval or applause) the same word? Â The OED is hesitant to say so. Â It's entry for the interjection "yay," marked "slang" (why?), says "Phrh. f. 'yay' adv. [as in 'he is about yay tall'] used as an exclamation, or f. 'yeah' adv. used similarly." Â The adverb "yay," in turn, is said to be "prob. f. 'yea.'"
> But isn't it more likely that the interjection "yay" comes directly from "yea" (a resounding affirmation, the antonym of "nay") simply a variant spelling, as my students intuited (the OED shows for "yea" about every imaginable historical spelling except "yay"--including "yai"!)? Â The OED's earliest dating of the adverb "yay" is from 1960, whereas its earliest dating of the interjection "yay" is from 1963. Â But cheerleaderish "yay" is easily traceable (in Google Books) back at least as far as 1921 (I haven't searched very hard).
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