yea/ yeah

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu May 3 16:13:04 UTC 2007

Really a jumble.

  I recall a 1917-18 article mentioning - no, recommending -  that pupils in American grammar schools be restrained from saying "yeah" (already under taboo as "slovenly") on the interesting ground that it sounded too "Teutonic."

  Yeah-voll, mine hair !


"Mark A. Mandel" <mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Mark A. Mandel"
Subject: Re: yea/ yeah

This message is in MIME format. The first part should be readable text,
while the remaining parts are likely unreadable without MIME-aware tools.

Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=utf-8
Content-Transfer-Encoding: QUOTED-PRINTABLE

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

One objection to a merger into a single article - with any appropriate=20
cavets, of course - is that "yea" (as in "yeas and nays") seems to appear i=
ModE writing exclusively in formal contexts, while "yeah" (often spelled=20
"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=20
current colloquial usage:

1596-97 W. Shakespeare _Henry IV Pt.1_ V, i: _Falstaff_. What is that=20
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=20

I pronounce=20
- "yea" /jeI/ rhyming with "day". (So does OED.)
- "yeah" as /jE@/ with a schwa offglide (likewise OED), rhyming with=20
nothing else in my vocabulary. When I put on an r-less Boston accent and sa=
"there", that's pretty close.

OED calls "yeah" "a casual pronunc. of YES". I disagree; it's a different=
word, like "nope".


A. adv. A word used to express affirmation or assent: now ordinarily=20
replaced by YES.

1. a. As simple affirmative, in answer to a question not involving a=20
negative: =3D YES 1.
For the distinction formerly observed between yea and yes, see NAY adv.1 =
and YES 2.=20

Repr. a casual pronunc. of YES.=20

Freq. in representations of direct speech.

A. adv.

1. Now arch. or regional (chiefly Eng. regional (north.)). a. =3D NO=
adv.2 1a; used to express negation, dissent, denial, or refusal, in answer=
to a statement, question, command, etc.
In older usage nay was usually considered to be the proper negative reply=
to a question framed in the affirmative (yea would be the correct expressio=
of a positive reply to the same). If the question was framed in the=20
negative, then the proper negative reply would be no (with yes for a=20
positive answer). This usage preserves the sense of nay as stemming from ne=
ay =91not yes=92.=20

A. adv. A word used to express an affirmative reply to a question,=20
statement, command, etc.

1. a. In answer to a question not involving a negative; standing for th=
affirmative sentence corresponding to the interrogative one constituting th=
question: =3D =91It is so.=92 Phr. to say yes: to assent, comply; spec. to =
a proposal of marriage.
Formerly usually more emphatic than yea or ay; in later use taking the=20
place of these as the ordinary affirmative particle: cf. 2 below.

m a m


The American Dialect Society -

Ahhh...imagining that irresistible "new car" smell?
 Check outnew cars at Yahoo! Autos.

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list