Office of the VP for Communications – Keeping alumni and friends connected to U-M

Yup, uh huh, yes

Would you agree?

If we agree with someone or something, sometimes we say, “Yes.” But we have other options too, many of them less formal than yes.

Consider: Yep, yup, yeah, yea,and uh huh,to name a few.

These informal variants of yesare older than you might expect. Yepgoes back to the end of the 19th century. And yeahand yupboth show up right at the beginning of the 20th century. Yeaheven comes with its own variations. Some people leave off the “h” for the shortened version, yea.I don’t know what was going on at this moment a hundred-and-some years ago to inspire all these informal ways to say something as simple as yes,and many of them undoubtedly predate the first written instances that we have found.

Uh huhis yet another variant of yes,but expressing agreement is not its only purpose. Uh huhis a U.S. expression that shows up in 1924 in the Oxford English Dictionaryrecords. While we can say uh huhto show that we agree with someone, we also can use it to show we are listening. It’s what linguists would call “back channeling.” When someone is talking to us we tend to make these little listening noises, one of which is, “Uh huh. Uh huh.” It doesn’t necessarily mean we concur with the person speaking, but it does show we’ve heard them.

There’s one other odd way that we sometimes say, “Yes,” and that is by saying, “No,” as in the expression, “No, I know.” In this case, the speaker could just as easily say, “Yes, I know.” It’s as if we are telling the other speaker that no, they don’t need to continue because we already know or agree.

Sometimes we use yesand notogether, or more specifically yeahand notogether, in the relatively new discourse marker yeah-no.It has several uses, including agreeing with a negative statement — e.g., “Yeah-no, I don’t need any more pillows.” (If you want to learn more about some of its other uses, such as hedging disagreement, check out this Lexicon Valley podcast.)

Then, of course, we can also use yeahto express skepticism rather then agreement, as in, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Yes?
 
 
This video appears courtesy of LSA Today. Curzan’s observations on language also can be heard on the Michigan Radio program “That’s What They Say.”

Comments

  1. Duane Hlavinka - 1969

    Does “you bet” count?

    Reply

  2. Booth Muller - 1969

    Anne, your comments are my favorite feature of the emails we receive from the university, but you frequently make a kind of observation that I find to be obvious, or rather obviously inaccurate. In this one, for example, I reference your comment about using “yeah” to express skepticism; that is not really a reverse-definition of the word. Rather, the word is being used ironically or sarcastically. You have often made similar comments about other words in the past. These usages do not represent an alternate definition even if they do represent an opposite meaning, and I recommend you should not suggest that they do.

    Reply

  3. James Beck - 1961

    An article in the February 23, 1927 Chicago Tribune titled “Better Speech Week Sways Pupils to Do Without Slang”, promotes dropping the use of slang by children including “uh huh” and “a hundred others”. Guess that hasn’t worked out all that well.

    Reply

  4. Marcus Miller - 1964

    I usually like this section but this time we miss the whole point. All forms as “yeah, yea, yea(p), ye(p), yeay, etc. come from German “Ja (pronounce Yah) meaning “yes, certainly, for sure”. Came with German immigrants to the colonies in the late 1600s and still used by all German speaking people. The Old English “aye” isn’t too far off.

    Reply

  5. Scott Stensaas - 1974; 1980

    how about “ya, you betcha” ? 😉

    Reply

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