CLOSE
Original image
iStock

40 Useful Y-Words To Add To Your Vocabulary

Original image
iStock

The ancestor of our humble letter Y is the twentieth letter of the Greek alphabet, upsilon, which was adopted into the Latin alphabet around 2,000 years ago to represent the “y” sound (or the voiced palatal approximant, to give it its proper name) found in some Ancient Greek loanwords. To speakers of Romance languages, like French and Spanish, this “y” sound was new, and so the classical origin of the newly-imported Y was retained in the letter’s name (i-grec in French, i-griega in Spanish, ípsilon in Portuguese, and so on). But as a Germanic language, English already had a “y” sound, and so Y quickly found a home for itself at the tail end of our alphabet—by the early Middle Ages, it had firmly established itself as the go-to choice of letter for scribes wanting to represented the “y” sound in English, ousting the ancient letter yogh, ȝ, which had until then been used to represent the same sound, from our alphabet.

As a relative latecomer to the English alphabet, however, Y has never been a particularly common letter: despite being found in a number of the most frequent words in the language (by, you, your, they, say), you can still only expect it to account for a little over 1.5 percent of all written language, and roughly the same proportion of the words in a dictionary—including the 40 useful Y-words listed here.

1. YAAGER

An old word from the far north of Scotland for an especially strong man. It’s probably derived from yoker, another name for a workhorse.

2. YAFFLE

To yaffle is to eat or drink messily, or to talk incoherently. It’s also another name for the green woodpecker, which supposedly makes a “yaffling” call.

3. YAGIMENT

A state of excitement.

4. YAHRZEIT

Derived via Yiddish from the German for “year-time,” a yahrzeit is an anniversary observed on the date of a person’s death.

5. YAKKA

Australian slang term for hard work, derived from an Aboriginal word.

6. YALLACRACK

An old Scots English word for a loud noise, or a particularly noisy argument or fight.

7. YAM

As a verb, yam can be used to mean “to eat appreciatively.”

8. YAPLY

To do something yaply is to do it nimbly or agilely.

9. YARD-OF-PUMPWATER

The perfect word from 19th century slang for a tall, lanky man…

10. YARN-CHOPPER

…followed by a 19th century nickname for someone who talks very verbosely, or a journalist who concocts or sensationalizes their stories. Also called a yarn-slinger.

11. YAUCHLE

To shuffle along or walk in an awkward manner.

12. YAW-YAW

Coined by Charles Dickens in Hard Times, to yaw-yaw is to talk haughtily or affectedly.

13. YAY-NAY

18th-19th century slang for an empty-headed person—literally someone who can only give “yes” or “no” answers.

14. YEAR-MIND

An old 15th century word for an anniversary or memorial.

15. YEGG

Supposedly (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) derived from the surname of some notorious American criminal, in early 1900s slang a yegg or yeggman was a burglar or safebreaker.

16. YELLOW-BACK

In Victorian England, some book publishers began mass-producing cheap, sensationalist novels to compete with the increasingly popular penny-dreadfuls. The books—totaling more than 1,000 different titles—were printed and bound in bright mustard-yellow jackets to attract readers’ attention, and were put on sale not in book stores but as impulse buys in tobacconists, train stations, and other everyday locations. Although the yellow-back publishing trend didn’t last, the name has remained in use in English to describe any sensationalist, mass-produced, and often poor-quality novel.

17. YELLOW-BEAL

An old English dialect word for someone who goes fishing, but comes home empty-handed.

18. YELLOW-YOWLING

In 18th century English, if you were yellow-yowling then you were sickly looking.

19. YEPSEN

The “bowl” you make cupping your hands together is called a gowpen, and the amount you can hold in it—in other words, a double handful—is a yepsen, or a yepsintle.

20. YERTDRIFT

A yertdrift is a snow storm accompanied by a very strong wind, which causes the snow to drift. The yert– part is probably a corruption of “earth,” referring to the downward fall of snow.

21. YESTERTEMPEST

Yesterday and yesteryear aren’t the only yester words in the English language. You can also talk about yestermorn, yester-afternoon, yestereve or yestere’en, yesternight and, should the need ever arise, yestertempest—the last storm.

22. YEVEROUS

If you’re yever then you’re greedy or covetous. If you’re yeverous, then you’re eager or impetuous.

23. YIDDLE

An old Scots word essentially meaning “to play idly on a musical instrument”—especially when the noise you’re getting out of it isn’t particularly musical…

24. YIM

To break something into fragments.

25. YIRD-HUNGER

A particularly voracious appetite. Literally means “a desire to own your own land.”

26. YLEPHOBIA

Also called hylophobia, ylephobia is an irrational fear or dislike of wooden objects. Figuratively, it’s also used to refer to a hatred of materialism.

27. YOGIBOGEYBOX

Coined by James Joyce in Ulysses (1922), a yogibogeybox is all the paraphernalia carried by a spiritualist.

28. YOJAN

The word yojan or yojana was borrowed into English in the 18th century from Hindi, but it derives ultimately from a Sanskrit word meaning “yoking.” Literally, it refers to the distance a yoked animal can be expected to walk before needing to rest or be unyoked—but according to Noah Webster, you can use it as just another name for a distance of five miles. Webster’s definition was probably based on an earlier explanation of the term that stated “the circumference of the Earth is equal to 5,059 yojunus,” which given a circumference of 24,901 miles makes one yojan equal to 4.92 miles. Other dictionaries are much less precise however, with the Oxford English Dictionary pointing out that, given the word’s literal meaning, in its native India it’s variously used to refer to a distance of anything from four to ten miles.

29. YOKE-FELLOW

A yoke-fellow or yoke-mate is a 16th century word for a co-worker or colleague, or someone who is involved alongside you in an arduous or unpleasant task, whereas…

30. YOKE-DEVIL

…a yoke-devil is someone with whom you’re up to no good. Shakespeare coined the term in Henry V.

31. YONDERWARD

Yonder—as in “yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”—is an old Middle English word essentially meaning “at that place,” or “over there.” As well as heading yonderward (“in that direction”), you can also talk about the yondermost (“most distant”) place, and can do something yonderway (“like that” or “in that way”). Yonderly is an old English dialect word meaning “sullen” or “melancholy.”

32. YORKROOM

The unploughed, overgrown edge of a field is the yorkroom.

33. YORKSHIRE

In the 17th century, the people of England’s largest county (now divided into four smaller counties or “ridings”) gained an unjust reputation for being penny-pinching and dishonest. As a result, to Yorkshire someone came to mean to cheat or dupe them; a Yorkshire bite is a particularly cunning ploy; and, in 19th century slang, a Yorkshire compliment was “a gift useless to the giver and not wanted by the receiver.”

34. YOUF

To yarr is to bark or snarl like a dog, and to yawl is to howl like a dog. But when a dog barks in a half-suppressed way, it youfs.

35. YOUNKER

A fashionable, or inexperienced, young man.

36. YPSILIFORM

Derived from upsilon, something described as ypsiliform is Y-shaped.

37. YULE-HOLE

The hole you have to move your belt to after Christmas dinner, or any equally enormous meal? That’s the Yule-hole.

38. YUMP

When a car leaves the ground when it crests a hill at speed, it yumps.

39. YUMPLING

Grumbling or complaining.

40. YUNK

When a horse yunks it tries to unseat its rider. Derived from that, yunk-a-cuddie is an old game similar to leapfrog.

Original image
EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Words
23 Slang Terms You Only Understand if You Work in Antarctica
Original image
EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images

Thanks to extreme conditions, a small research population, close quarters, and the unique experience of life there, Antarctica has developed a lingo all of its own. Yes, even freezing, remote Antarctica has slang. Here is a sample of some, er, cooler terms, which come from the many English-speaking nationalities, from Canada to New Zealand, that have stepped foot on its ice.

1. BIG EYE

In winter, Antarctica is covered in perpetual darkness; in summer, sunlight. The continent can certainly put a wrench in one’s circadian rhythms, as this slang for light-related insomnia makes plain.

2. TOASTY

Antarctica’s climate also puts a wrench in one’s mental faculties. Crew stationed there often experience a loss of words, forgetfulness, irascibility, and “brain fog” brought on by the dark, cold, and altitude. Toasty is also used for other general misdemeanors committed around the camp.

3. ICE SHOCK

Antarctica’s shell shock. As one Antarctica-based worker blogged about it, ice shock is “when you get back to the rest of the world and realize that no matter how insane Antarctica is, the real world is FAR nuttier, and that you can no longer function in it.”

4. GREENOUT

A riff on whiteout. As The Antarctic Dictionary defines it, greenout is “the overwhelming sensation induced by seeing and smelling trees and other plants spending some time in antarctic regions.”

5. THE ICE

Speaking of the ice, this is how Antarcticans refer to the whole ice-covered continent.

6. CHEECH

Not the counterpart of Chong, but a play on consonant clusters in the name of the place from which many researchers jump off to Antarctica: Christchurch, New Zealand.

7. MACTOWN

McMurdo Station, the U.S. research hub and largest Antarctic community, which can host around 1250 residents in summer.

8. CITY MICE

These are personnel who work at the main research stations.

9. COUNTRY MICE

These are crew who move among different camps on the continent.

10. ICE-HUSBAND/ICE-WIFE

When the cat's away, the mice will play. One’s ice-husband or ice-wife is like a fling for crew down in Antarctica for the season.

11. ICE-WIDOW/ICE-WIDOWER

Meanwhile, one’s spouse or significant other is stuck all alone back home as their loved one is working at the South Pole.

12. FINGY

This pejorative term for a newbie apparently derives from “f—king new guy,” or FNG.

13. BEAKER

An epithet for “scientist.” Some specialist personnel also have nicknames, like fuelie (responsible for fueling various equipment) and wastie (who deal with refuse).

14. WINTER-OVER

When crew, bravely, stay in Antarctica over the entire brutal winter.

15. TURDSICLE

It gets cold down at the southern end of the world. The average—yes, average—temperature is -52ºF. The excrement freezeth, shall we say.

16. SNOTSICLE

So too do boogers freeze in this blend of snot and icicle.

17. DEGOMBLE

“To disencumber of snow,” as The Antarctic Dictionary explains, especially before coming back inside shelter. The origin of gomble is obscure, possibly a term for little balls of snow stuck to the fur of sled dogs.

18. SKUA

Named for the predatory, scavenging skua birds found in Antarctica, a skua pile or bin is a sort of rummage bin. Crew can leave and pick over unwanted items there. Also used as a verb.

19. OFFENSIVE POTATOES

British speakers apparently did not take a liking to canned potatoes they had to eat ...

20. SAWDUST

... nor the dried cabbage.

21. FRESHIES

Shipments of these fresh fruits and vegetables are quite welcome to the cuisine-deprived Antarctica researchers and personnel.

22. POPPY

Alcohol served over Antarctica ice, which makes a pop sound as it releases the gas long pressurized into it.

23. CARROTS

Not that much of the food sounds terribly edible, if slang is any measure, but these carrots aren’t to be munched on. They refer to ice cores, ‘uprooted’ samples whose cylindrical shape resemble the vegetable.

This slang is only the tip of the, um, iceberg. For more, see Bernadette Hince’s The Antarctica Dictionary, the Cool Antarctica website, and The Allusionist podcast, which has explored linguistic life on the ice in its episode, “Getting Toasty.”

Original image
Rebecca O'Connell
arrow
Words
What's the Longest Word in the World? Here are 12 of Them, By Category
Original image
Rebecca O'Connell

Antidisestablishmentarianism, everyone’s favorite agglutinative, entered the pop culture lexicon on August 17, 1955, when Gloria Lockerman, a 12-year-old girl from Baltimore, correctly spelled it on The $64,000 Question as millions of people watched from their living rooms. At 28 letters, the word—which is defined as a 19th-century British political movement that opposes proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England—is still regarded as the longest non-medical, non-coined, nontechnical word in the English language, yet it keeps some robust company. Here are some examples of the longest words by category.

1. METHIONYLTHREONYLTHREONYGLUTAMINYLARGINYL … ISOLEUCINE 

Note the ellipses. All told, the full chemical name for the human protein titin is 189,819 letters, and takes about three-and-a-half hours to pronounce. The problem with including chemical names is that there’s essentially no limit to how long they can be. For example, naming a single strand of DNA, with its millions and millions of repeating base pairs, could eventually tab out at well over 1 billion letters.

2. LOPADOTEMACHOSELACHOGALEOKRANIOLEIPSAN …P TERYGON

The longest word ever to appear in literature comes from Aristophanes’ play, Assemblywomen, published in 391 BC. The Greek word tallies 171 letters, but translates to 183 in English. This mouthful refers to a fictional fricassee comprised of rotted dogfish head, wrasse, wood pigeon, and the roasted head of a dabchick, among other culinary morsels. 

3. PNEUMONOULTRAMICROSCOPICSILICOVOLCANOCONIOSIS

At 45 letters, this is the longest word you’ll find in a major dictionary. An inflated version of silicosis, this is the full scientific name for a disease that causes inflammation in the lungs owing to the inhalation of very fine silica dust. Despite its inclusion in the dictionary, it’s generally considered superfluous, having been coined simply to claim the title of the longest English word.

4. PARASTRATIOSPHECOMYIA STRATIOSPHECOMYIOIDES 

The longest accepted binomial construction, at 42 letters, is a species of soldier fly native to Thailand. With a lifespan of five to eight days, it’s unlikely one has ever survived long enough to hear it pronounced correctly.

5. PSEUDOPSEUDOHYPOPARATHYROIDISM

This 30-letter thyroid disorder is the longest non-coined word to appear in a major dictionary.

6. FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION

By virtue of having one more letter than antidisestablishmentarianism, this is the longest non-technical English word. A mash-up of five Latin roots, it refers to the act of describing something as having little or no value. While it made the cut in the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster volumes refuse to recognize it, chalking up its existence to little more than linguistic ephemera.

7. SUBDERMATOGLYPHIC

At 17 characters, this is the longest accepted isogram, a word in which every letter is used only once, and refers to the underlying dermal matrix that determines the pattern formed by the whorls, arches, and ridges of our fingerprints. 

8. SQUIRRELLED

Though the more commonly accepted American English version carries only one L, both Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries recognize this alternate spelling and condone its one syllable pronunciation (think “world”), making it the longest non-coined monosyllabic English word at 11 letters.

9. ABSTENTIOUS

One who doesn’t indulge in excesses, especially food and drink; at 11 letters this is the longest word to use all five vowels in order exactly once.

10. ROTAVATOR 

A type of soil tiller, the longest non-coined palindromic word included in an English dictionary tallies nine letters. Detartrated, 11 letters, appears in some chemical glossaries, but is generally considered too arcane to qualify.

11. and 12. CWTCH, EUOUAE

The longest words to appear in a major dictionary comprised entirely of either vowels or consonants. A Cwtch, or crwth, is from the Welsh word for a hiding place. Euouae, a medieval musical term, is technically a mnemonic, but has been accepted as a word in itself. 

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios