Yea, Yeah, Yay


"I think our national symbol should be the turkey. Yea or nay?"

“Our national symbol should be the turkey. Yea or nay?”

Today we’re learning about how to spell and use some confusing Y words: yea, yeah, and yay.

Yea means yes. It is the oldest of the three words, with its first-known use coming before the twelfth century. Now we mostly see yea when reading about voting. For instance, when posed a question, a group may be asked to answer yea (yes) or nay (no). Note that yea rhymes with the word hay.

Example: “Should we have hot dogs for lunch?” the mother asked. “Answer yea or nay.”

Yeah is a slang word that also means yes. Yeah is much newer than yea, however, having come into existence in the 1860s. In terms of spelling, yeah and yea are often confused. Remember that unless you’re writing about a public vote, you’ll want to use yeah.

Example: He asked if I wanted to go on a date and I said yeah.

Yay is often used as an interjection to express excitement and approval. It has the same meaning as yippee or hooray. It appears to have evolved from the word yea and is pronounced the same way.

Example: Yay! We’re going to the zoo!


Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

Sign up for the Dot and Dash newsletter to get writing tips and tricks and exclusive deals.  

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In Defense of Y’all

I mentioned on twitter yesterday (find me at @GrammarParty for tweets about grammar and cats and nerd stuff) that I’m going to start saying y’all more often. And I got some good-natured ribbing about it. “It’s my heritage,” I cried in defense via tweet.

I grew up in Appalachia, and though y’all is more often used in the southern parts of the United States, I did hear it as a child. Now living Minneapolis, which is more “civilized” and devoid of cows and other livestock, saying y’all makes me feel homey, almost like I can smell the manure on the cornfield by my old house every time I say it. (Apparently when one is homesick, even manure can bring good memories.) So I’m going to continue to say it. And that’s okay.

In case you were wondering, y’all is a legitimate word in the same way that ain’t is a word. People say it, so it’s a word. They’re both perfectly fine to use in conversation. I just wouldn’t encourage using it on a college admission essay, lest the mighty academics judge you to be unedjeecated.

But why I ask, dear readers, does y’all have a bad reputation? It’s simply a contraction of you all. While that may be redundant, is it any different, I ask, than the you guys I hear so frequently in the north? Or you lot, which people say in England? Y’all just gets bound up with all these bad stereotypes of the kind of people we envision saying it. Well, this y’all sayer does not wear jean overalls and does not have a piece of hay sticking out of her mouth. But if she did, that would be okay, too.

How to use y’all
Now that I’ve obviously convinced you that it’s okay to say y’all, let’s look at how to use it correctly.

Y’all is spelled like that. It’s not ya’ll. The apostrophe goes after the Y. Perhaps people get confused with the contraction for we will, which is we’ll, and thus misplace the apostrophe in y’all.

Also, there is some debate about whether y’all can be singular. The majority of authorities I checked seem inclined to say it is only plural. I agree. Since it’s a contraction of you all, the all lends itself to meaning more than one person.

Y’all revolution
If you’re feeling a bit feisty today, and are up for a debate, I encourage you to drop a y’all in conversation and gauge the listener’s response. If the listener thinks you’re silly for saying that, then ask why. If more than one person is in your group, perhaps say, “What’s so wrong with y’all, y’all?” You may find it will spark a lively conversation about words and stereotypes—and maybe, by the time y’all are finished, we’ll have world peace.

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

Sign up for the Dot and Dash newsletter to get writing tips and tricks and exclusive deals.  

Follow Dot and Dash on social media.
Twitter: @GrammarParty
Instagram: @dot_and_dash_llc

Okay! OK! O.K.! Ok?

You are, no doubt, familiar with OK. These two strung-together letters have made one of the world’s most commonly used words. Today we’re going to learn the origin of this universal term for all right, sure, and fine and which of its various spellings are correct.

OK started as a joke. In 1839, it was a trend for newspapers in Boston to use initialisms that represented misspelled phrases. For example, there was K.G., which stood for know go (instead of no go), and N.C., which stood for nuff ced (instead of enough said). This is how OK entered the language. Newspapers of the time used it to stand for oll korrect, a jokey version of all correct, funny because the spelling was the opposite of being all correct.

And then came this mutton-chopped fellow:

When President Martin Van Buren was running for reelection in 1840, his fundraising group in New York was named the O.K. Club. In this instance, OK also referenced his nickname Old Kinderhook (which came from his birthplace in the New York village of Kinderhook). Van Buren lost, but the word gained popularity.

Spellings of OK
OK was originally spelled with periods, looking like this: O.K. Today, it is more common to see it spelled as OK (without the periods) and okay. If you look it up in the dictionary, you will see either OK and okay listed as correct spellings of the word or all three versions: O.K., OK, and okay.

Style guidelines are largely fuzzy on the issue of one preferred spelling. For instance, The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t even acknowledge the issue. However, The Associated Press Stylebook lists OK as the preferred spelling. The most important point is to pick one spelling and stick with it throughout your writing to maintain consistency.

However, note that spelling the word with lowercase letters (ok) is not, well, OK. I mean okay.

American Heritage Dictionary online:

Chicago Manual of Style online:

Online Etymology Dictionary:


“Veteran drudge” of The Baltimore Sun newspaper, John E. McIntyre, recently blogged a list of slang words for being drunk:


Lots of S words, apparently.

But what about slang for the opposite end of the imbibing spectrum?

teetotalism: the principal or practice of complete abstinence from alcoholic drinks

teetotaler: one who practices or advocates teetotalism

It’s a common mistake to think that teetotaler has to do with tea—as if one who does not consume alcohol hits up the teakettle instead. Actually, this term dates to the age of temperance societies (groups that pushed for mandatory abstinence from alcohol), with its first citation being in 1834.

As explained in the Online Etymology Dictionary, it is thought that teetotaler comes from the word totally. The tee in the front of the word is the sound of the letter T and was added for emphasis—as if to mean extra totally or totally totally.

Example: That teetotaler is extra totally BO-RING.


During last week’s vice presidential debate, Joe Biden dropped some old man slang on the world when he called fellow candidate Paul Ryan’s response malarkey.

In case you don’t know, here’s how Merriam-Webster defines malarkey: “insincere or foolish talk.”

“Your grandma smells like pickled beets!” Morris yelled.
“No, she doesn’t,” Walter interjected. “That’s malarkey.”

“Well, I think your grandma drinks blood,” Walter said snidely.
“No way. That’s malarkey!” Morris cried.

“What you just said was malarkey,” Walter responded.
“That’s malarkey that you think what I just said was malarkey.” Morris replied.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, we don’t know the origin of malarkey. But we do know that it entered American English in the mid-1920s. It’s also a surname, which makes me think some guy with the last name Malarkey was quite the storyteller in the mid-1920s.

As if malarkey weren’t good enough, there are other old-timey words that have the same meaning. Toss one of these nouns at the next fibber you come across: