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Yay, Yea, Yeah, or Yes?

When should you say "yay"? 

By
Mignon Fogarty,

shoutyay

Two of my friends (Trent Armstrong, the former Modern Manners Guy, and Hyatt Bass, author of the novel The Embers) asked about the word yay and why people so often seem to incorrectly use yea or yeah instead.

Yay

Yay is an exclamation that shows feelings such as excitement, joy, happiness, triumph, and approval. The origin is fuzzy though. Some dictionaries say it came from yeah, but most seem to think it evolved from the adverbial yay in the phrases yay big and yay high, but then the Oxford English Dictionary says that the yay in yay high probably came from yea.  And you wonder why people are confused.

No matter where it came from, the first example sentence for yay in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1963, and it is fabulous. He talks surfie talk. 'cowabunga, wipe-out, I'm getting stoked..yay gremmies'. (Gremmies are young or inexperienced surfers who are often annoying. It comes from gremlins. But back to yay.)

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Yea

Yea is a much older word that can be traced all the way back to Old English and that has parallels in all Germanic languages. It's another way of saying "yes" or "indeed." It can be an adverb, as in Squiggly loved the chocolate, yea, he reminisced about it for weeks, or it can be a noun, as in Aardvark was one of 30 yeas in favor of limiting access to the lake. Today, people most often use yea when they’re talking about voting.

Yeah

Finally, yeah is an informal way of saying "yes" that was being used in America by the early 1900s. Yeah is still labeled informal or colloquial in many dictionaries, and some manners guides and articles on professionalism advise readers that yeah is sloppy, and yes is the only mannerly, professional response. (I tend to say "yeah" instead of "yes," but I'm working on it.)

I heard from people who object to the use of "yea" and "yeah" to mean "yay," and although I believe such use is often the result of confusion about what each word means, I also like to remember that people shout the word "yes" when they are excited too, so it's not necessarily inappropriate to use "yea" or "yeah" in such instances.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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