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    Y — yew (n.)


    a late-developing letter in English. Called ipsilon in German, upsilon in Greek, the English name is of obscure origin.ETD Y.2

    The sound at the beginning of yard, yes, yield, etc. is from Old English words with initial g- as in got and y- as in yet, which were considered the same sound and often transcribed as Ȝ, known as yogh. The system was altered by French scribes, who brought over the continental use of -g- and from the early 1200s used -y- and sometimes -gh- to replace Ȝ.ETD Y.3

    The French also tended to substitute -y- for -i-, especially before -u-, -n-, or -m-, or at the end of words, to avoid confusion in reading (see U), which might also partly explain this tendency in Middle English. As short for YMCA, etc., by 1915.ETD Y.4


    perfective prefix, in yclept, etc.; a deliberate archaism, introduced by Spenser and his imitators, representing an authentic Middle English prefix y-, earlier i-, from Old English ge-, originally meaning "with, together" but later a completive or perfective element, from Proto-Germanic *ga- "together, with" (also a collective and intensive prefix), from PIE *kom "beside, near, by, with" (cognate with Sanskrit ja-, Latin com-, cum-; see com-). It is still living in German and Dutch ge-, and survives, disguised, in some English words (such as alike, aware, handiwork).ETD y-.2

    Among hundreds of Middle English words it formed are yfallen, yhacked ("completely hacked," probably now again useful), yknow, ymarried, ywrought.ETD y-.3

    -y (1)

    noun suffix, in army, city, country, etc., from Old French -e, Latin -atus, -atum, past participle suffix of certain verbs, which in French came to be used to indicate "employment, office, dignity" (as in duché, clergié).ETD -y (1).2

    -y (4)

    suffix indicating state, condition, or quality; also activity or the result of it (as in victory, history, etc.), via Anglo-French and Old French -é, from Latin -ia, Greek -ia, from PIE *-a-, suffix forming abstract or collective nouns. It is etymologically identical with -ia and the second element in -cy, -ery, -logy, etc.ETD -y (4).2

    -y (3)

    suffix in pet proper names (such as Johnny, Kitty), first recorded in Scottish c. 1400; according to OED it became frequent in English 15c.-16c. Extension to surnames seems to date from c. 1940. Use with common nouns seems to have begun in Scottish with laddie (1546) and become popular in English due to Burns' poems, but the same formation appears to be represented much earlier in baby and puppy.ETD -y (3).2

    -y (2)

    adjective suffix, "full of or characterized by," from Old English -ig, from Proto-Germanic *-iga- (source also of Dutch, Danish, German -ig, Gothic -egs), from PIE -(i)ko-, adjectival suffix, cognate with elements in Greek -ikos, Latin -icus (see -ic).ETD -y (2).2

    Originally added to nouns in Old English; it was used from 13c. with verbs, and by 15c. with other adjectives (for example crispy).ETD -y (2).3

    Variant forms in -y for short, common adjectives (vasty, hugy) helped poets keep step with classical feet when the grammatically empty but metrically useful -e dropped off such words in late Middle English. To replace it, verse-writers had adopted to -y forms by Elizabethan times, and often it was done artfully, as in Sackville's "The wide waste places, and the hugy plain." Simple huge plain would have been a metrical balk.ETD -y (2).4

    After Coleridge's criticism of the -y forms as archaic artifice, poets gave up stilly (Moore probably was last to get away with it, with "Oft in the Stilly Night"), paly (which Keats and Coleridge himself had used) and the rest. Jespersen ("Modern English Grammar," 1954) also lists bleaky (Dryden), bluey, greeny, and other color words, lanky, plumpy, stouty, and the slang rummy. Vasty survived, he said, only in imitation of Shakespeare; cooly and moisty (Chaucer, hence Spenser) he regarded as fully obsolete. But in a few cases he notes (haughty, dusky) they seem to have supplanted the shorter forms.ETD -y (2).5

    yacht (n.)

    1550s, yeaghe "a light, fast-sailing ship," from Norwegian jaght or early Dutch jaght, both from Middle Low German jacht, shortened form of jachtschip "fast pirate ship," literally "ship for chasing," from jacht "chase," from jagen "to chase, hunt," from Old High German jagon, from Proto-Germanic *yago-, from PIE root *yek- (2) "to hunt" (source also of Hittite ekt- "hunting net"). Related: Yachting; yachtsman.ETD yacht (n.).2

    yack (v.)

    also yak, "to talk, to chatter," 1950, slang, probably short for yackety-yacking "talk" (1947), probably echoic (compare Australian slang yacker "talk, conversation," 1882). Related: Yacked; yacking.ETD yack (v.).2


    "and so on," 1990s, of echoic origin (compare yatata "talk idly, chatter," 1940s; and yatter "to talk incessantly or idly," 1825).ETD yadda-yadda.2

    yah (interj.)

    exclamation of defiance or dismissal, from 1812. Extended form yah-boo by 1910.ETD yah (interj.).2

    yahoo (n.)

    "a brute in human form," 1726, from the race of brutish human creatures in Swift's "Gulliver's Travels." "A made name, prob. meant to suggest disgust" [Century Dictionary]. "Freq. in mod. use, a person lacking cultivation or sensibility, a philistine; a lout; a hooligan" [OED]. The internet search engine so called from 1994.ETD yahoo (n.).2

    Yahtzee (n.)

    dice game, 1957, proprietary (E.S. Lowe Co., N.Y.), apparently based on yacht.ETD Yahtzee (n.).2


    1869, hypothetical reconstruction of the tetragrammaton YHWH (see Jehovah), based on the assumption that the tetragrammaton is the imperfective of Hebrew verb hawah, earlier form of hayah "was," in the sense of "the one who is, the existing."ETD Yahweh.2


    "this," as in yay big "this big," 1950s, perhaps from yea "yes" in its sense of "even, truly, verily." "a sort of demonstrative adverb used with adjectives of size, height, extent, etc., and often accompanied by a hand gesture indicating size" [DAS].ETD yay.2

    yak (n.)

    "wild ox of central Asia," 1795, from Tibetan g-yag "male yak." Attested in French from 1791.ETD yak (n.).2

    yak (v.)

    "laugh," 1938, variant of yuck (2); "talk idly," 1950, variant of yack. Related: Yakked; yakking.ETD yak (v.).2


    Native American people of Washington State, 1852, perhaps from Sahaptin /iyakima/ "pregnant women."ETD Yakima.2

    yakuza (n.)

    traditional Japanese organized crime cartel, literally "eight-nine-three" (ya, ku, sa) the losing hand in the traditional baccarat-like Japanese card game Oicho-Kabu. The notion may be "good for nothing," or "bad luck" (such as that suffered by someone who runs afoul of them), or it may be a reference to the fact that a player who draws this hand requires great skill to win.ETD yakuza (n.).2


    university in New Haven, Connecticut, U.S., founded 1701 as Collegiate School, renamed 1718 in honor of a gift from British merchant-philanthropist Elihu Yale (1649-1721). As a kind of lock, 1854, invented by U.S. mechanic Linus Yale Jr. (1821-1868). The surname is Welsh, from ial, and means "dweller at the fertile upland." Related: Yalie.ETD Yale.2

    y'all (pron.)

    by 1879, U.S. dialect abbreviation of you all (see you, and compare yins).ETD y'all (pron.).2

    We-all for "us" is attested by 1865; we-uns by 1864. Who-all attested from 1899.ETD y'all (pron.).3

    yam (n.)

    1580s, igname (current form by 1690s), from Portuguese inhame or Spanish igname, from a West African language (compare Fulani nyami "to eat;" Twi anyinam "species of yam"); the word in American and Jamaican English probably is directly from West African sources. The Malay name is ubi, whence German öbiswurzel.ETD yam (n.).2

    yammer (v.)

    late 15c., "to lament," probably from Middle Dutch jammeren and cognate Middle English yeoumeren, "to mourn, complain," from Old English geomrian "to lament," from geomor "sorrowful," probably of imitative origin. Cognate with Old Saxon jamar "sad, sorrowful," German Jammer "lamentation, misery." Meaning "to make loud, annoying noise" is attested from 1510s. Related: Yammered; yammering.ETD yammer (v.).2

    yang (n.)

    masculine or positive principle in Chinese philosophy, 1670s, from Mandarin yang, said to mean "male, daylight, solar," or "sun, positive, male genitals."ETD yang (n.).2

    yank (v.)

    "to pull, jerk," 1822, Scottish, of unknown origin. Related: Yanked; yanking. The noun is 1818 in sense of "sudden blow, cuff;" 1856 (American English) as "a sudden pull."ETD yank (v.).2

    Yank (n.)

    abbreviated form of Yankee, 1778.ETD Yank (n.).2

    Yankee (n.)

    1683, a name applied disparagingly by Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (New York) to English colonists in neighboring Connecticut. It may be from Dutch Janke, literally "Little John," diminutive of common personal name Jan; or it may be from Jan Kes familiar form of "John Cornelius," or perhaps an alteration of Jan Kees, dialectal variant of Jan Kaas, literally "John Cheese," the generic nickname the Flemings used for Dutchmen.ETD Yankee (n.).2

    Originally it seems to have been applied insultingly to the Dutch, especially freebooters, before they turned around and slapped it on the English. A less-likely theory (attested by 1832) is that it represents some southern New England Algonquian language mangling of English. In English a term of contempt (1750s) before its use as a general term for "native of New England" (1765); during the American Revolution it became a disparaging British word for all American natives or inhabitants. Contrasted with southerner by 1828. Shortened form Yank in reference to "an American" first recorded 1778. Latin-American form Yanqui attested in English by 1914 (in Mexican Spanish by 1835).ETD Yankee (n.).3

    Yankee Doodle (n.)

    popular tune of the American Revolution, apparently written c. 1755 by British Army surgeon Dr. Richard Schuckburgh while campaigning with Amherst's force in upper New York during the French and Indian War. The original verses mocked the colonial troops (see Yankee) serving alongside the regulars, and the Doodle element might have been, or hinted at, the 18c. slang term for "penis." The song naturally was popular with British troops in the colonies during the Revolutionary War, but after the colonials began to win skirmishes with them in 1775, they took the tune as a patriotic prize and re-worked the lyrics. The current version seems to have been written in 1776 by Edward Bangs, a Harvard sophomore who also was a Minuteman.ETD Yankee Doodle (n.).2

    yap (v.)

    1660s, "bark as a (small) dog," earlier as a noun, "yapping dog" (c. 1600), probably of imitative origin. Compare verb yamph in same sense (1718). Originally in reference to dog sounds; meaning "to talk idle chatter" is first recorded 1886. Related: Yapped; yapping. As a noun, 1826 in reference to the sound; 1900, American English slang as "mouth."ETD yap (v.).2

    yappy (adj.)

    1909, from yap + -y (2).ETD yappy (adj.).2


    growling sound, imitative, attested from c. 1300.ETD yar.2

    Yarborough (n.)

    in bridge/whist, a hand with no card above a nine, 1874, said to be so called for an unnamed Earl of Yarborough who bet 1,000 to 1 against its occurrence.ETD Yarborough (n.).2

    yard (n.1)

    "patch of ground around a house," Old English geard "fenced enclosure, garden, court; residence, house," from Proto-Germanic *gardan- (source also of Old Norse garðr "enclosure, garden, yard;" Old Frisian garda, Dutch gaard, Old High German garto, German Garten "garden;" Gothic gards "house," garda "stall"), of uncertain origin, perhaps from PIE *ghor-to-, suffixed form of root *gher- (1) "to grasp, enclose," with derivatives meaning "enclosure."ETD yard (n.1).2

    As "college campus enclosed by the main buildings," 1630s. Shipyard is from c. 1700. In railway usage, "ground adjacent to a train station or terminus, used for switching or coupling trains," 1827. Yard sale is attested by 1976.ETD yard (n.1).3

    yard (n.2)

    measure of length, Old English gerd (Mercian), gierd (West Saxon) "rod, staff, stick; measure of length," from West Germanic *gazdijo, from Proto-Germanic *gazdjo "stick, rod" (source also of Old Saxon gerda, Old Frisian ierde, Dutch gard "rod;" Old High German garta, German gerte "switch, twig," Old Norse gaddr "spike, sting, nail"), from PIE root *ghazdh-o- "rod, staff, pole" (source also of Latin hasta "shaft, staff"). The nautical yard-arm retains the original sense of "stick."ETD yard (n.2).2

    Originally in Anglo-Saxon times a land measure of roughly 5 meters (a length later called rod, pole, or perch). Modern measure of "three feet" is attested from late 14c. (earlier rough equivalent was the ell of 45 inches, and the verge). In Middle English and after, the word also was a euphemism for "penis" (as in "Love's Labour's Lost," V.ii.676). Slang meaning "one hundred dollars" first attested 1926, American English. Middle English yerd (Old English gierd) also was "yard-land, yard of land," a varying measure but often about 30 acres or a quarter of a hide.ETD yard (n.2).3

    yardage (n.)

    "aggregate number of yards," 1900 in sports, from yard (n.2) + -age.ETD yardage (n.).2

    yard-arm (n.)

    also yardarm, 1550s, from yard (n.2) in the nautical sense (attested from Old English) + arm (n.1). In 19c. British naval custom, it was permissible to begin drinking when the sun was over the yard-arm.ETD yard-arm (n.).2

    yardbird (n.)

    "convict," 1956, from yard (n.1) + bird (n.1), from the notion of prison yards; earlier it meant "basic trainee" (World War II armed forces slang).ETD yardbird (n.).2

    yardstick (n.)

    also yard-stick, 1797, from yard (n.2) + stick (n.).ETD yardstick (n.).2

    yare (adj.)

    "ready, prepared," Old English gearo "ready, prepared, equipped," from gearwian "to equip, prepare" (related to gearwe "clothing, dress") from Proto-Germanic *garwjan "to make, prepare, equip, ready, complete" (see gear (n.)). Cognate with German gar, Dutch gaar. Related: Yarely.ETD yare (adj.).2

    yarmulke (n.)

    1903, from Yiddish yarmulke, from Polish jarmułka, originally "a skullcap worn by priests," perhaps ultimately from Medieval Latin almutia "cowl, hood."ETD yarmulke (n.).2

    yarn (n.)

    Old English gearn "spun fiber, spun wool," from Proto-Germanic *garnan (source also of Old Norse, Old High German, German garn, Middle Dutch gaern, Dutch garen "yarn"), from PIE root *ghere- "intestine, gut, entrail." The phrase to spin a yarn "to tell a story" is first attested 1812, from a sailors' expression, on notion of telling stories while engaged in sedentary work such as yarn-twisting.ETD yarn (n.).2

    yarrow (n.)

    plant, also known as milfoil, Old English gearwe "yarrow," from Proto-Germanic *garwo (source also of Middle Dutch garwe, Old High German garawa, German Garbe), which is perhaps from a source akin to the root of yellow (adj.).ETD yarrow (n.).2

    yaw (v.)

    "to fall away from the line of a course," 1580s (as a noun 1540s), perhaps ultimately from Old Norse jaga, Old Danish jæge "to drive, chase," from Middle Low German jagen (see yacht).ETD yaw (v.).2

    yaws (n.)

    contagious skin disease, 1670s, from Carib yaya, the native name for it.ETD yaws (n.).2

    yawl (n.)

    type of ship's boat, 1660s, apparently from Middle Low German jolle or Dutch jol "a Jutland boat" (according to a 1708 source), of uncertain origin. Also borrowed into French (yole), Italian (jolo), Russian (yal).ETD yawl (n.).2

    yawn (v.)

    c. 1300, yenen, yonen, from Old English ginian, gionian "open the mouth wide, yawn, gape," from Proto-Germanic *gin- (source also of Old English giwian, giowian, giwan "to request," Old Norse gina "to yawn," Dutch geeuwen, Old High German ginen "to be wide open," German gähnen "to yawn"), from PIE root *ghieh- "to yawn, gape, be wide open." Modern spelling is from 16c. Related: Yawned; yawning.ETD yawn (v.).2

    yawn (n.)

    "act of yawning," 1690s, from yawn (v.). Meaning "boring thing" is attested from 1889.ETD yawn (n.).2

    yawner (n.)

    1680s, agent noun from yawn (v.). Meaning "boring thing" is 1942, American English colloquial (yawn (n.) in this sense is attested from 1889).ETD yawner (n.).2

    yawp (v.)

    c. 1300, yolpen, probably echoic variant of yelpen (see yelp). Related: Yawped; yawping. The noun, in reference to speech, is recorded from 1835, now used chiefly in conscious echo of Whitman (1855).ETD yawp (v.).2


    Old English gicliopad; from y- + past participle of cleopian, cpipian "to speak, call; summon, invoke; implore" (see clepe).ETD yclept.2


    *yē-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to throw, impel."ETD *ye-.2

    It forms all or part of: abject; abjection; adjacence; adjacent; adjective; aphetic; catheter; circumjacent; conjecture; deject; ease; ejaculate; eject; enema; gist; ictus; interjacent; inject; interject; interjection; jess; jet (v.1) "to sprout or spurt forth, shoot out;" jet (n.1) "stream of water;" jete; jetsam; jettison; jetton; jetty (n.) "pier;" joist; jut; object; objection; objective; paresis; project; projectile; reject; rejection; subjacent; subject; subjective; trajectory.ETD *ye-.3

    It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Hittite ijami "I make;" Latin iacere "to throw, cast."ETD *ye-.4

    ye (pron.)

    Old English ge, nominative plural of 2nd person pronoun þu (see thou); cognate with Old Frisian ji, Old Saxon gi, Middle Dutch ghi, Dutch gij. Cognate with Lithuanian jūs, Sanskrit yuyam, Avestan yuzem, Greek hymeis.ETD ye (pron.).2

    Altered, by influence of we, from an earlier form that was similar to Gothic jus "you (plural)" (see you). The -r- in Old Norse er, German ihr probably is likewise from influence of their respective 1st person plural pronouns (Old Norse ver, German wir).ETD ye (pron.).3

    ye (article)

    old or quaintly archaic way of writing the, in which the -y- is a 16c. graphic alteration of þ, an Old English character (generally called "thorn," originally a Germanic rune; see th) that represented the -th- sound (as at the beginning of thorn). The characters for -y- and -þ- so closely resembled each other in Old English and early Middle English handwriting that a dot had to be added to the -y- to keep them distinct. In late 15c., early printers in English, whose types were founded on the continent, did not have a þ in their sets, so they substituted y as the letter that looked most like it when setting type. But in such usages it was not meant to be pronounced with any of the sounds associated with -y-, but still as "-th-." Ye for the (and yt for that) continued in manuscripts through 18c. Revived 19c. as a deliberate antiquarianism; the Ye Olde _____ construction was being mocked by 1896.ETD ye (article).2

    yes (adv.)

    Old English gise, gese "so be it!," probably from gea, ge "so" (see yea) + si "be it!," from Proto-Germanic *sijai-, from PIE *si-, optative stem of root *es- "to be." Originally stronger than simple yea. Used in Shakespeare mainly as an answer to negative questions. As a noun from 1712. Yes-man is first recorded 1912, American English.ETD yes (adv.).2

    yea (adv.)

    Old English gea (West Saxon), ge (Anglian) "so, yes," from Proto-Germanic *ja-, *jai-, a word of affirmation (source also of German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish ja), from PIE *yam-, from pronominal stem *i- (see yon). As a noun, "affirmation, affirmative vote," from early 13c.ETD yea (adv.).2


    American English, colloquial, by 1863, from drawling pronunciation of yes.ETD yeah.2

    yean (v.)

    Old English eanian "to bring forth" (young), especially in reference to sheep or goats, from Proto-Germanic *aunon (cognate with Dutch oonen), from PIE *agwh-no- "lamb" (source also of Greek amnos "lamb," Latin agnus, Old Church Slavonic agne, Old Irish uan, Welsh oen). Yeanling "young lamb, kid" is recorded from 1630s.ETD yean (v.).2

    yeanling (n.)

    "lamb, kid," 1630s, from yean + -ling.ETD yeanling (n.).2

    year (n.)

    Old English gear (West Saxon), ger (Anglian) "year," from Proto-Germanic *jēr "year" (source also of Old Saxon, Old High German jar, Old Norse ar, Danish aar, Old Frisian ger, Dutch jaar, German Jahr, Gothic jer "year"), from PIE *yer-o-, from root *yer- "year, season" (source also of Avestan yare (nominative singular) "year;" Greek hōra "year, season, any part of a year," also "any part of a day, hour;" Old Church Slavonic jaru, Bohemian jaro "spring;" Latin hornus "of this year;" Old Persian dušiyaram "famine," literally "bad year"). Probably [Watkins] originally "that which makes [a complete cycle]," and from verbal root meaning "to do, make."ETD year (n.).2

    yearbook (n.)

    also year-book, 1580s, "book of reports of cases in law-courts for that year," from year + book (n.). Meaning "book of events and statistics of the previous year" is recorded from 1710. Sense of "graduating class album" is attested from 1926, American English.ETD yearbook (n.).2

    yearling (n.)

    "animal a year old or in its second year," mid-15c., from year + -ling. Year-old (n.) in this sense is from 1530s.ETD yearling (n.).2

    yearly (adj.)

    Old English gearlic "yearly, of the year, annual;" see year + -ly (1).ETD yearly (adj.).2

    year-long (adj.)

    also yearlong, 1813, from year + -long.ETD year-long (adj.).2

    yearn (v.)

    Old English giernan (West Saxon), geornan (Mercian), giorna (Northumbrian) "to strive, be eager, desire, seek for, beg, demand," from Proto-Germanic *gernjan (source also of Gothic gairnjan "to desire," German begehren "to desire;" Old High German gern, Old Norse gjarn "desirous," Old English georn "eager, desirous," German gern "gladly, willingly"), from PIE root *gher- (2) "to like, want." Related: Yearned; yearning.ETD yearn (v.).2

    yearning (n.)

    Old English gierning, verbal noun from yearn (v.). Related: Yearningly.ETD yearning (n.).2

    year-round (adj.)

    1917, from (all) the year round; see year (n.) + round (adj.). As an adverb from 1948.ETD year-round (adj.).2

    yeast (n.)

    Old English gist "yeast, froth," from Proto-Germanic *jest- (source also of Old Norse jastr, Swedish jäst, Middle High German gest, German Gischt "foam, froth," Old High German jesan, German gären "to ferment"), from PIE root *yes- "to boil, foam, froth" (source also of Sanskrit yasyati "boils, seethes," Greek zein "to boil," Welsh ias "seething, foaming").ETD yeast (n.).2

    yeasty (adj.)

    1590s, from yeast + -y (2).ETD yeasty (adj.).2

    yegg (n.)

    also yegg-man, 1901, a word popular in the first decade of the 20th century and meaning vaguely "hobo burglar; safe-breaker; criminal beggar."ETD yegg (n.).2

    Popularized by the Pinkerton agency detectives. The 1900 "Proceedings of the 26th annual convention of the American Bankers' Association," whose members were protected by the Pinkerton's National Detective Agency, reported a letter dated Nov. 23 or 24, 1899, returning $540, taken earlier that year, to the Scandinavian-American Bank of St. Paul, Minn., noting that the thieves had been so hounded by detectives that they gave up the gains and advised the bank to advertise that it was a member of the American Bankers Association, because "the American Bankers Association is too tough for poor 'grafters.'" The letter supposedly was signed "John Yegg," but this was said to be a pseudonym and the report identified the man arrested later in the case as William Barrett.ETD yegg (n.).3

    yell (n.)

    late 14c., originally in Scottish, from yell (v.).ETD yell (n.).2

    yelling (n.)

    mid-13c., verbal noun from yell (v.).ETD yelling (n.).2

    yell (v.)

    Old English giellan (West Saxon), gellan (Mercian) "to yell, sound, shout," class III strong verb (past tense geal, past participle gollen), from Proto-Germanic *gel- (source also of Old Norse gjalla "to resound," Middle Dutch ghellen, Dutch gillen, Old High German gellan, German gellen "to yell"), extended form of root of Old English galan "to sing" (source of the -gale in nightingale); from PIE root *ghel- (1) "to call." Intransitive sense from early 13c. Related: Yelled; yelling.ETD yell (v.).2

    yellow (v.)

    Old English geoluwian "to become yellow," from the source of yellow (adj.). Transitive sense from 1590s. Related: Yellowed; yellowing.ETD yellow (v.).2

    yellow (adj.)

    Middle English yelwe, from Old English geolu, geolwe, "yellow," from Proto-Germanic *gelwaz (source also of Old Saxon, Old High German gelo, Middle Dutch ghele, Dutch geel, Middle High German gel, German gelb, Old Norse gulr, Swedish gul "yellow"), from PIE root *ghel- (2) "to shine," with derivatives denoting "green" and "yellow" (such as Greek khlōros "greenish-yellow," Latin helvus "yellowish, bay").ETD yellow (adj.).2

    In Middle English it also was used of a color closer to blue-gray or gray, of frogs or hazel eyes, and as a translation of Latin caeruleus or glauco. The meaning "light-skinned" (in reference to black persons) is recorded by 1808. It was applied to Asiatics by 1787, though that first reference is to Turkish words for inhabitants of India.ETD yellow (adj.).3

    Yellow peril translates German die gelbe gefahr. The sense of "cowardly" is by 1856, of unknown origin; the color was traditionally associated rather with jealousy and envy (17c.). Yellow-bellied "cowardly" is from 1924, probably a semi-rhyming reduplication of yellow; earlier yellow-belly was a sailor's name for a half-caste (1867) and a Texas term for Mexican soldiers (1842, based on the color of their uniforms). Yellow dog "mongrel" is attested from c. 1770; the slang sense of "contemptible person" is recorded by 1881. Yellow fever is attested from 1748, American English (jaundice is a symptom).ETD yellow (adj.).4

    yellow (n.)

    "the color yellow or one of its hues," Middle English yelwe, from the adjective and from Old English geolo, geolu, "yellow" (n.), from Proto-Germanic *gelwaz (source also of Old Saxon, Old High German gelo, Middle Dutch ghele, Dutch geel, Middle High German gel, German gelb, Old Norse gulr, Swedish gul "yellow"), from PIE root *ghel- (2) "to shine," with derivatives denoting "green" and "yellow" (such as Greek khlōros "greenish-yellow," Latin helvus "yellowish, bay"). Occasionally in Middle English it was used of a color closer to blue-gray or gray, of frogs or hazel eyes, and as a translation of Latin caeruleus or glauco.ETD yellow (n.).2

    yellowcake (n.)

    oxide of uranium, 1950, from yellow (adj.) + cake (n.).ETD yellowcake (n.).2

    yellowy (adj.)

    1660s, from yellow (n.) + -y (2).ETD yellowy (adj.).2

    yellow journalism

    "sensational chauvinism in the media," 1898, American English, from newspaper agitation for war with Spain; originally "publicity stunt use of colored ink" (1895) in reference to the popular Yellow Kid" character (his clothes were yellow) in Richard Outcault's comic strip "Shantytown" in the "New York World."ETD yellow journalism.2

    yellow ribbon

    The American folk custom of wearing or displaying a yellow ribbon to signify solidarity with loved ones or fellow citizens at war originated during the U.S. embassy hostage crisis in Iran in 1979. It does not have a connection to the American Civil War, beyond the use of the old British folk song "Round Her Neck She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" in the John Wayne movie of the same name, with a Civil War setting, released in 1949.ETD yellow ribbon.2

    The story of a ribbon tied to a tree as a signal to a convict returning home that his loved ones have forgiven him is attested from 1959, but the ribbon in that case was white.ETD yellow ribbon.3

    The ribbon color seems to have changed to yellow first in a version retold by newspaper columnist Pete Hamill in 1971. The story was dramatized in June 1972 on ABC-TV (James Earl Jones played the ex-con). Later that year, Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown copyrighted the song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree," which became a pop hit in early 1973 and sparked a lawsuit by Hamill, later dropped.ETD yellow ribbon.4

    In 1975, the wife of a Watergate conspirator put out yellow ribbons when her husband was released from jail, and news coverage of that was noted and remembered by Penne Laingen, whose husband was U.S. ambassador to Iran in 1979 and one of the Iran hostages taken in the embassy on Nov. 4. Her yellow ribbon in his honor was written up in the Dec. 10, 1979, Washington Post.ETD yellow ribbon.5

    When the hostage families organized as the Family Liaison Action Group (FLAG), they took the yellow ribbon as their symbol. The ribbons revived in the 1991 Gulf War and again during the 2000s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.ETD yellow ribbon.6

    yellowtail (n.)

    type of fish, 1709, from yellow (adj.) + tail (n.).ETD yellowtail (n.).2

    yelp (n.)

    Old English gielp "boasting, pride, arrogance," from source of yelp (v.). Meaning "quick, sharp bark or cry" is attested from early 16c.ETD yelp (n.).2

    yelp (v.)

    Old English gielpan (West Saxon), gelpan (Anglian) "to boast, exult," from Proto-Germanic *gel- (source also of Old Saxon galpon, Old Norse gjalpa "to yelp," Old Norse gjalp "boasting," Old High German gelph "outcry"), from PIE root *ghel- (1) "to call, cry out." Meaning "utter a quick, sharp, bark or cry" is 1550s, probably from the noun. Related: Yelped; yelping.ETD yelp (v.).2


    southwestern region of Arabia, from Arabic Yemen, literally "the country of the south," from yaman "right side" (i.e., south side, if one is facing east). The right side regarded as auspicious, hence Arabic yamana "he was happy," literally "he went to the right," and hence the Latin name for the region in Roman times, Arabia Felix, lit, "Happy Arabia." Related: Yemeni.ETD Yemen.2

    yen (n.1)

    Japanese monetary unit, 1875, from Japanese yen, from Chinese yuan "round, round object, circle, dollar."ETD yen (n.1).2

    yen (n.2)

    "sharp desire, hunger," 1906, earlier yen-yen (1900), yin (1876) "intense craving for opium," from Chinese (Cantonese) yan "craving," or from a Beijing dialect word for "smoke." Reinforced in English by influence of yearn.ETD yen (n.2).2

    yenta (n.)

    "gossip, busybody," 1923, from Yente Telebende, comic strip gossip in 1920s-30s writing of Yiddish newspaper humorist B. Kovner (pen-name of Jacob Adler) in the "Jewish Daily Forward." It was a common Yiddish fem. proper name, altered from Yentl and said to be ultimately from Italian gentile "kind, gentle," earlier "noble, high-born" (see gentle).ETD yenta (n.).2

    yeoman (n.)

    c. 1300, "attendant in a noble household," of unknown origin, perhaps a contraction of Old English iunge man "young man," or from an unrecorded Old English *geaman, equivalent of Old Frisian gaman "villager," from Old English -gea "district, region, village," cognate with Old Frisian ga, ge, German Gau, Gothic gawi, from Proto-Germanic *gaujan.ETD yeoman (n.).2

    Sense of "commoner who cultivates his land" is recorded from early 15c.; also the third order of fighting men (late 14c., below knights and squires, above knaves), hence yeomen's service "good, efficient service" (c. 1600). Meaning "naval petty officer in charge of supplies" is first attested 1660s. Yeowoman first recorded 1892: "Then I am yeo-woman O the clumsy word!" [Tennyson, "The Foresters"]ETD yeoman (n.).3

    yeomanry (n.)

    "yeomen collectively," late 14c., from yeoman + -ry.ETD yeomanry (n.).2


    by 1889, American English, variant of yes or yeah, altered for emphasis, or possibly influenced by nope.ETD yep.2


    representing a dialectal or vulgar pronunciation of your, attested from 1814.ETD yer.2


    agent noun suffix, variant of -ier used after a vowel or -w-.ETD -yer.2


    bacteria genus that includes the species that causes the bubonic plague (Y. pestis), named for Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin, who, with Kitasato Shibasaburo, first identified it in 1894. It was first named Pasteurella pestis; the modern name came about during a reclassification in 1944.ETD Yersinia.2

    yeshiva (n.)

    "Orthodox Jewish college or seminary," 1851, from Hebrew yesibah "academy," literally "a sitting," from yashav "to sit."ETD yeshiva (n.).2


    1836, representing a quick reply of yes, sir, which is attested by 1799 and in 19c. writing was a typical phrase for restaurant waiters taking orders. Extended form yessiree is attested from 1846 (in U.S., siree for sir is attested from 1823).ETD yessir.2


    Old English geostran "yesterday," from Proto-Germanic *gester- (source also of Old High German gestaron, German gestern "yesterday," Old Norse gær "tomorrow, yesterday," Gothic gistradagis "tomorrow"), originally "the other day" (reckoned from "today," either backward or forward), from PIE root *dhgh(y)es- "yesterday" (source also of Sanskrit hyah, Avestan zyo, Persian di, Greek khthes, Latin heri, Old Irish indhe, Welsh doe "yesterday;" Latin hesternus "of yesterday").ETD yester-.2

    yesterday (n., adv.)

    Old English geostran dæg; see yester- + day.ETD yesterday (n., adv.).2

    yesternight (n., adv.)

    Old English gystran niht; see yester- + night.ETD yesternight (n., adv.).2

    yesteryear (n.)

    coined 1870 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti from yester- + year to translate French antan (from Vulgar Latin *anteannum "the year before") in a refrain by François Villon: Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan? which Rossetti rendered "But where are the snows of yesteryear?"ETD yesteryear (n.).2

    yet (adv.)

    Old English get, gieta "till now, thus far, earlier, at last, also," an Anglo-Frisian word (cognates: Old Frisian ieta, Middle High German ieuzo), of unknown origin; perhaps connected to PIE pronominal stem *i- (see yon). The meaning in other Germanic languages is expressed by descendants of Proto-Germanic *noh- (source of German noch), from PIE *nu-qe- "and now." As a conjunction from c. 1200.ETD yet (adv.).2

    yeti (n.)

    1937, from Sherpa (Tibetan) yeh-teh "small manlike animal." Compare abominable snowman (under abominable).ETD yeti (n.).2


    Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to join."ETD *yeug-.2

    It forms all or part of: adjoin; adjust; conjoin; conjugal; conjugate; conjugation; conjunct; disjointed; enjoin; injunction; jugular; jostle; joust; join; joinder; joint; jointure; junction; juncture; junta; juxtapose; juxtaposition; rejoin (v.2) "to answer;" rejoinder; subjoin; subjugate; subjugation; subjunctive; syzygy; yoga; yoke; zeugma; zygoma; zygomatic; zygote.ETD *yeug-.3

    It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit yugam "yoke," yunjati "binds, harnesses," yogah "union;" Hittite yugan "yoke;" Greek zygon "yoke," zeugnyanai "to join, unite;" Latin iungere "to join," iugum "yoke;" Old Church Slavonic igo, Old Welsh iou "yoke;" Lithuanian jungas "yoke," jungti "to fasten to a yoke;" Old English geoc "yoke."ETD *yeug-.4

    yew (n.)

    evergreen tree of temperate Europe and Asia, Old English iw, eow "yew," from Proto-Germanic *iwo- (source also of Middle Dutch iwe, Dutch ijf, Old High German iwa, German Eibe, Old Norse yr), from PIE *ei-wo- (source also of Old Irish eo, Welsh ywen "yew"), perhaps a suffixed form of root *ei- (2) "reddish, motley, yellow."ETD yew (n.).2

    OED says French if, Spanish iva, Medieval Latin ivus are from Germanic (and says Dutch ijf is from French); others posit a Gaulish ivos as the source of these. Lithuanian ieva likewise is said to be from Germanic. The tree symbolizes both death and immortality, being poisonous as well as long-lived. Reference to its wood as well-suited to making bows dates from c. 1400.ETD yew (n.).3

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