Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
This is something I see often in discussion forums. Another similar one is typing “Yea” instead of “Yeah” to affirm a yes/no question (this is more of a typo/slip than an eggcorn).
Welcome to the Forum, pancakeparfait.
I’ve always seen this as a cluster of spelling problems. The adverb yea, meaning yes, is (I think) mostly encountered in voice voting and (again, I think, but see also below) not very commonly seen in written form. More common in written form is the related adverb yea in the sense of verily, but this is different enough that I’m not convinced most people regard the two senses as closely linked. (The Oxford English Dictionary seems to disagree with me. It calls these two senses of the same word, but it calls that word “Now dialect and archaic.”)
Similarly, the interjection yay, which OED defines as “An exclamation of triumph, approval, or encouragement,” is more suited to casual speech than to the type of writing that is edited and spell-checked (again, see below).
On the third hand, the word yeah, although it is pronounced differently, has a very similar meaning to the first sense of yea, and occurs much more often in writing.
Here’s a bit of empirical evidence for my “I think”s. In the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), the word yeah occurs 100,446 times. (The corpus contains approximately 385 million words, so yeah seems fairly common. As a comparison, time, which is the most common noun in the British National Corpus, occurs 613,276 times in COCA.)
The word yay occurs 149 times, most of those (87 of 149) in spoken sources. The concordancer suggests that the word yea occurs 413 times, but most of these appear to be either misspellings of yay or yeah, or instances of the second sense, yea verily.
SPOK | NBC_Today | . : Oh is it? Oh, yeah. : Yeah, yea, yeah, yeah. : Yeah, yeah, yeah. :
SPOK | CBS_48Hours | ) Happy Halloween. @# SPEAKER (Voiceover) Everybody, happy Thanksgiving. Yea! : (Home videotape) Marlene, the young bride. :
MAG | AmSpect | themselves, (saying): Am I not your Lord? They said: Yea, verily. We testify. (That was) lest ye should say at
To make a long story short – or at least to summarize a long meander, both yay for yea and yea for yeah seem to be common misspellings rather than semantic reshapings.
Do you know that “yay” is not in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate dictionary?
Ticks me off.
Though I think there is a semantic reshaping possible. I’d be willing to believe that people don’t often run into “a yea vote” very often (more common is “all in favor say aye”).
And “yay” vs. “nay” certain makes sense, even if it is a bit enthusiastic.
I have many embarrassed memories—largely from childhood and teenagehood—of realizing that I’d misunderstood a word or phrase. “Yea or nay” is one of those. At some point, I saw the standard form in a book or newspaper and realized I’d always incorrectly assumed that people were either rejecting something or cheering it on (“Yay!”). So for me at a certain age, this reshaping had an eggcorn-like feel. And my experience is that if I’ve thought of the possibility, so have other people.
My age at that time may be a factor in this case, however. Both Nilep and TootsNYC have more or less suggested that “yea” and “yay” belong to very different registers, and that’s something I either didn’t notice or didn’t consider meaningful when I was a kid. Today, if I could somehow hear “yea or nay” for the first time, I think the tonal inappropriateness of “yay” would keep me from eggcorning the expression. But still, I agree with TootsNYC—the chances that even some adult speakers are occasionally following an eggcornish line of logic on this have to be fairly decent.
Nevertheless, this is probably technically a flounder. First, I think it’s a whole-for-whole replacement; in other words, I think people are probably using “Yay” anywhere “yea” could appear. Eggcorns show part-for-part replacement, either replacing parts of a whole word, or a part of a fixed phrase. Second, these are reasonably close semantically. The OED defines “yay” the interjection as “An exclamation of triumph, approval, or encouragement.” “Yea” the noun is “An utterance of the word ‘yea’; an affirmative reply or statement; an expression of assent.” An exclamation of approval and a statement of assent may be a bit too close for me to feel that we’ve got different imagery at work—which is needed for an eggcorn. So I vote “flounder.” Yays or nays?