yea/ yeah

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Wed May 2 23:05:56 UTC 2007

As I wrote some time ago, OED ought to reconsider its treatment of "yea" and "yeah," as the two could not be any closer semantically or phonetically.

  One objection to a merger into a single article - with any appropriate cavets, of course - is that "yea" (as in "yeas and nays") seems to appear in ModE writing exclusively in formal contexts, while "yeah" (often spelled "yea" in the early 20th C.) is restricted to very informal contexts.  Yet the current entry for "yea" subsumes such uncommon phonetic forms as "yee" and "yoy."

  Under "yea," OED affords two Shakespearean exx. (1593 and 1599), but both are formal, followed inj each case by "my Lord."  Nevertheless, here is one rather familiar example that seems to me to be indistinguishable from current colloquial usage:

  1596-97 W. Shakespeare _Henry IV Pt.1_ V, i: _Falstaff_. What is that honour ?...Who hath it ? He that died on Wednesday. Doth he feel it ?  No. Doth he hear it ? No. 'Tis insensible then ? Yea, to the dead.

  Note the contrast with "no" rather than "nay." A dearth of similar "yeas" in print or manuscript between 1600 and 1900 would present something of mystery.


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