Monday, January 27, 2014

Shake and Nod, Yea, Yeah, Yay

Shake and Nod, Yea, Yeah, Yay.

No, I'm not sitting down with my guitar and a notepad. There are some things I can't seem to grasp. Poetry and verse are better left to those more gifted than me.

As a writer, I often challenge myself to find the right word for the right occasion. Sometimes I succeed; other times, I find that I can thoroughly embarrass myself. Maybe not as bad as showing up at the Queen's Ball wearing only a black tie and pink boxers, but close. The truth is, the English language offers so many variations that I can easily trip up if I'm not paying attention: different spellings that can mean the same thing and others that sound the same but don't convey the same meaning at all. Reading another post on the internet (about the use of a Thesaurus and finding the right word) inspired me to pose a couple of word issues I have resolved in my own mind. (Which is good. I don't think I can honestly say I have resolved anything in anyone else's mind lately. No, I'm sure of it. I never have. But I digress...)

Shake vs. Nod

In my readings, and in listening to speeches, I have seen and heard the word shake used interchangeably, to mean both Yes and No. Using the Dictionary-dot-com app on my iPad, I looked up Shake, and here's what I found among the various definitions:

Shake one's head:
1. to indicate disapproval, disagreement, negation, or uncertainty by turning one's head from one side to the other and back (I'm glad they cleared that one up): I asked him if he knew the answer, but he just shook his head.
2. to indicate approval, agreement, affirmation or acceptance by nodding one's head up and down. (emphasis mine)

I find it interesting the second definition includes the word nodding. For me, when I'm writing a character's action I don't use shake interchangeably. If I want my character to indicate approval, I use nod; if disapproval, I use shake.

This is not to suggest there is a right way and a wrong way. It's more of a style decision, I suppose. To be clear for my readers, though, I make the distinction.

Yea, Yeah, Yay

Here is another set of words that I've seen used interchangeably as interjections, as in, "Our quarterback just scored the winning touchdown!" "Yea!" (or "Yeah!" or "Yay!"). Some may think: Really, who cares? I may be anal about it (No, I admit that I am) but I do. I'm not sure they should be used with such a cavalier attitude.

The first of these, Yea, is defined as:

1. yes (used in affirmation or assent).
2. indeed: Yea, and he did come.
3. not only this but even: a good, yea, a noble man.

4. an affirmation; an affirmative reply or vote.
5. a person who votes in the affirmative.

Yea means "Yes" in an old English or Parliamentary sense, and it seems I might find it used while reading a King James passage (Yea, though I walk...) or while watching a group of comedians lampoon the phrase (i.e., Monty Python and the Holy Grail). In my opinion, then, yea should never be used as an interjection unless the setting is right. Are we all in one accord?

The second, Yeah, is defined as:

—adverb, informal

In the context I have seen it, Yeah is more often used as an offhanded, almost dismissive yes, such as a teenager might say when confronted by his mother: "And, Billy, I want that bed made before you get to play any video games today." "Yeah, yeah, yeah." Again, I don't know that I would want to use it for an interjection. It doesn't pack the emotional punch for me.

The final word, Yay, is defined as:

— interjection Informal.
1. (an exclamation used to express joy, excitement, etc.)

— adverb Informal.
2. to the extent, amount, etc., indicated: The doll is about yay high.

Also, yea.

Bingo. The first definition says it all for me. If I want to use a word as an interjection, then maybe the right choice should be Yay!

Again, this is not to suggest there is a right way and a wrong way. It's more of a style decision (for me); and truthfully, I don't always adhere to it. When I find that I've violated my own rule, typically after I have punched in a quick e-mail or response, the same pink boxers show up to remind me just how human I am.

As an aside, while reading up for this post, I realized that yea, yeah, and yay are all adverbs. Isn't there a thought out there, from the likes of King and Twain, that if you see an adverb, kill it? Again, I digress...

These are my two cents. I'm not sure where that expression comes from, but there you are. Feel free to sound off and express your thoughts on these word choices and how you use them. Or maybe there are other word preferences you would like to share.

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