I’m a mother, teacher’s daughter, wife, friend and – whether I’m presenting updates at a PTA meeting, singing Creepy Crawly Calypso with my son’s music class or media training a room full of business professionals – I’m a communicator.
I may be a few years removed from the full-time professional grind, but I’m still a firm believer in choosing words wisely – carefully crafting a message for maximum impact, whether written or spoken. Strong communications have the power to yield meaningful results.
So this is my appeal: Why say yeah when you can say yes?
I’m not talking about something terribly profound or life-changing, like saying “yes” more often than “no” as a way to increase happiness or fulfillment (a la Yes Man, the movie, although that sounds great in theory). I’m talking about using the word yes instead of the informal and seemingly more popular (dare I call slang) version, yeah.
As a former college communications and English major, grammar gal and stickler for manners, I remind my children to say “yes with an s” along with the requisite “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” and “cover your cough – sneeze in your sleeve.” My four-year-old now corrects Elmo and Team Umizoomi when they use yeah instead of yes.
The adverb yes is defined by Merriam-Webster as a function word to express assent or agreement and is in the bottom 50% of words by popularity, while yeah is in the top 1% of lookups by popularity and is defined as the informal yes. Comments reveal people are unclear on the use of yea vs. yeah or yay, so here’s a quick reference:
- Yea (pronounced “yay”) is used in oral voting or to introduce a more emphatic phrase. Synonyms include indeed, nay and truly. This is the oldest English word for “yes” dating back to before the 12th
- Yeah means yes. Synonyms include alright, aye, exactly and OK.
- Yay is an interjection used to express joy, approval or excitement.
Yeah is nothing new. According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use was in 1863. For an etymology of affirmations to make your head spin, check out this Oxford University Press blog post, which, in addition to detailing the many variations of yes, asserts “only crumbs of old slang and conversational usage have come down to us.”
We’ve become an ever more casual society. Our speech reflects it. New social channels practically demand it (or perhaps they’ve evolved from it?). Formalities are waning on many levels. We dine on paper plates at parties. We wear jeans to church. We have pajama day at school. We send notes of love and thanks via text message. Heck, I’m using contractions. With informal banter comes valuable candor and closeness with others.
I’m not suggesting an Usher song by any other name would sound as sweet (Yeah!), but when given a choice, I prefer expressing assent or agreement with yes. Doesn’t it sound more intellectual and proper than yeah?
Yeah certainly has its place, but let’s not forget about yes.
Let’s start a movement – albeit a small one – of saying yes more often.
Will you join me? (I hope that’s a yes).