yoda as a generic

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue May 4 16:38:51 UTC 2010

The earliest use of "a yoda" that I found was very close to the release
of Empire Strikes Back. Once the search is limited to "the yoda of",
there is a few hits in the 1980s (starting in 1983), then rapidly rising
through the 1990s. Joe Torre referred to David Wells as "the Yoda of the
staff" back in 1998, in 1999 the NYT has Don Zimmer pegged as "the Yoda
of bench coaches", etc. In general, the metaphor appears to be quite
common among sports writers.

You can even get a whole string:

Pay-Per-View - Hartford Courant - ProQuest Archiver - Oct 4, 1996
> Meet the Zen master of slapstick, the Yoda of yucks, the great and
> mighty Oz of the classic tradition of commedia dell'arte.

There are literally dozens of these between 1990 and 2010. But I want to
start in order.

The pony in the washing machine
Pay-Per-View - Chicago Tribune - ProQuest Archiver - Dec 17, 1981
...Goodness knows what a Yoda or a Princess Leia would do to the spin
cycle. ...

There might be earlier references of this kind, but that's the one I
found. It somewhat genericized "Yoda", but not quite in the sense you
are asking about--it's more like "Rumsfeld" in "Every administration has
a Rumsfeld". It does not refer to the specific Yoda of Star Wars, but
it's a similar Yoda nonetheless, someone Yoda-like. Generic, but not
specifically a generic guru.

It took another two years for Yoda to show up in the sense you're
looking for:

The Palm Beach Post - May 24, 1983
Marcum Leaves Lake Worth a Diamond Legacy. By Steve Hummer. p. 22/1
> "You have to be awfully lucky, or things don't work out like that."
> says Marcum, the Yoda of Palm Beach County baseball.

This is the earliest appearance in GNA. It's clearly the expression
that's been used enough to make it into a local, not widely read
newspaper, but I found no other record for it. As far as antedating is
concerned, this is it, but I have a few more random notes below.

 From the point of idle curiosity, this may be interesting.

> From the summit of the Gap the party proceeded down the north face of
> the range to the Yoda, a tributary of the Mambare. The stream was
> crossed, but a retreat soon became necessary owing to the threatening
> attitude of the natives, whose attach had finally to be repelled by
> force. The Yoda bed was about 150 yards wide, but the river itself
> only 20 yards, and knee-deep. A definite conclusion as to the best
> route for a future road was prevented by the mountainous nature of the
> country, but the Gap itself seemed hardly capable of being traversed
> by pack-animals. From the Yoda to Tamaba station, on the Mambare, a
> good track could probably be found. The report on gold-mining does not
> show that any great results have been attained.

When I first saw the hit, I thought it was an OCR error--for example, GB
renders "Mambare" as "Mambaie". But, no, the Yoda is a river in "British
New Guinea".

The Geographical Journal. July 1900. p. 107

There an immediately attache "Yoda Valley" as well. And another Yoda
River in Japan... Somehow, I don't expect a connection between Lucas and
the Yoda Valley or Yoda River. But I would not exclude the possibility
that Lucas used the name of a Japanese scientist. There is a
"self-thinning rule" in forestry that is named after the lead author of
a 1963 paper--the Yoda rule. I have a tertiary reference that identifies
"Harper (1977)" as the coinage, but the bibliography is not included in
the GB copy, so I can't identify the actual paper.

Advances in Ecological Research. Vol. 14. 1984. p. 176

There are a number of Japanese scientists in different fields who are
named Yoda (at least one is A. Yoda). But back to the real Yodas...

Texas Monthly. January 1982
The Saint of Falfurrias. By Dick J/ Reavis. p. 100/1
> Pedro Jaramillo, a thin, bearded man with the omniscient stare of a
> Yoda or Meher Baba, died at Falfurrias in 1907. He was 77.

Again, this is the already mentioned semi-generic sense--a Yoda who is
not a Yoda, but is Yoda like. Not a guru.

InfoWorld. August 9, 1982.
Apple Prices Falling; Apples by Any Other Name Even Cheaper. Inside
Track column by John C. Dvorak.
> Another industry gossip recently told me that the real cheap Apple is
> still being developed. It was originally called the Annie, then the
> VLC (very low cost) and is now called the Yoda.

Another intermediate stage is "Yoda-like", which is well attested. There
is also "becoming a Yoda".

VLSI Design. Volume 4. 1983
A "Yoda" in the Making for Wafer-Scale Integration. p. 13
p. 82
> ... where you won't commit to anything you're not going to do, and
> will do everything you commit to, you've got it made. "It's kind of
> like becoming a Yoda...

Only the preview is available in GB--the snippet adds no extra info.


On 5/4/2010 10:18 AM, Amy West wrote:
> (I did a quick search of the since-1999 ADS-L archive and the
> before-April-2008 Language Log archive before posting this: I
> apologize if I missed something.)
> I spotted this use of "yoda" as generic -- equivalent to "guru" -- in
> the Boston Globe yesterday:
> I am drawn to Prohibition, as I am to all catastrophes, so I turn to
> Prohibition yoda Dan Okrent for enlightenment. Okrent is author of
> the forthcoming book "The Last Call: the Rise and Fall of
> Prohibition."
> --Sam Allis, Boston Globe, May 3, 2010, p. 23, G section
> http://www.boston.com/ae/events/articles/2010/05/03/remembering_the_dark_days_during_the_nations_dry_times/
> ---Amy West
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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