Q. I don't know if it is just me, but it seems a lot of people I talk to, listen to on the radio or see on TV use some slang word instead of saying, "Yes." I'm not sure I even know how to spell what they say. I thought it might be "yah" or "yeah" but neither one is in my old dictionary. Am I missing something here? Has the English language changed the word to something else and I just haven't heard about it? Are they teaching this in our schools?
A. I, too, hear other words more frequently today in place of the word "yes." I hear it so often that I have to catch myself from saying "yeah" and remind myself the word is "yes." It makes me angry when I forget. From various sources around the country, it appears this vernacular is almost becoming universal.
In researching this trend, I was surprised to find that it is not a relatively new trend at all. Some records show that the variation of "yep" and "yup" have been in our vocabulary as early as the 1890s.
"Yeah" (or "yea" as some chose to spell it) was supposedly first officially recorded somewhere between 1901 and 1905. A source at that time referred to it as "an American corruption" of the word "yes."
Some sources feel using "yeah" is not slang at all, but refer to it as the form to use during informal or colloquial conversations.
The older generation feels it is a sign of sloppiness or laziness when speaking, or perhaps the person is not as educated as he would like to be or should be.
Some of the younger generation feels it is cool to say "yeah" to show they are part of an in group or are up to date with the latest.
In addition to the sometimes inaudible "yeah," you might also hear "ahuh," "uh huh," "mmuph" or "yo."
I do know this: A "yeah" response from someone I shake hands with for the first time does not leave me with a great first impression. The same applies to listening to other words not clearly and distinctly spoken, such as "How ya doin'?"
I insist the students in my etiquette classes practice what was once called diction, enunciation, and elocution. For example, remember this one: "The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plains"?
My students comply when they are in class. But after class when they are informally socializing, I hear the "yeah," so I remind them. Occasionally, I will hear: "We're not in class. We're speaking informally so it's OK, isn't it?"
My response to that is similar to the statement young people often say when they are eating dinner at home with their parents and they are reminded to keep their elbows off the table: "Oh, gee whiz, we're at home now. We know we shouldn't have our elbows on the table and we don't do it when we are eating out in public."
My response: If you repeat an informal word often enough, it will soon become a habit and habits are difficult to break, especially when you want to make a good impression.
Thank you for your question. I am going to work harder to say "yes." Anyone around me who hears me saying "yeah," should remind me to put a quarter in the charity jar in my closet, which is what I am going to do each time I catch myself.
Q. When it is cold, cold weather, can I regret an invitation to go out to dinner with friends even though I originally told them I would? I did and you would have thought I committed the worst breach of etiquette in the world.
A. Each person has the right to politely regret an already-accepted invitation when unusual circumstances make it a common sense or necessary decision for that individual.
Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.