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40 Useful Y-Words To Add To Your Vocabulary

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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.

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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