Yahooisms in Pronunciation
and How to Get Rid of Them

Essay by Frank Zahn

Americans are prone to pronounce words and phrases in ways that do not correspond to their spelling. That is, they often pronounce words and phrases in ways that either include the sounds of letters that are not there or exclude the sounds of letters that are there and should be included when speaking English phonetically correct. These are dubbed yahooisms in pronunciation because they suggest that people who speak them have not completely left behind the proverbial “old neighborhood” or “the farm” in which they and/or their ancestors were born and bred. Examples of yahooisms in pronunciation abound.

There is only one letter y in the word yahoo. So when a person says, “He’s a real yayhoo.” Instead of “He’s a real yahoo.”, yayhoo is a yahooism for yahoo.

The letter sequence ou and not the letter e is in the word your. So when a person asks, “What’s yer name?” instead of “What’s your name?”, yer is a yahooism for your.

The letter sequence ho is not in the word sure. So when a person says, “I’m shore of it.” instead of “I’m sure of it.”, shore is a yahooism for sure. Think about it, Mr. President.

The letter r appears twice in the word library. So when a person says, “I’m going to the libary.” instead of “I’m going to the library.”, libary is a yahooism for library.

The letter u is in the word Aunt. So when a person says, “I love my Ant Maggie.” instead of “I love my Aunt Maggie.”, Ant, which is an insect, is a yahooism for Aunt. The letter sequence un and the letter n are not equivalent, so why should they be pronounced the same in English?

There is a letter k, but not a letter t in the word asked. So when a person says, “I asted the guy.” instead of “I asked the guy,” asted, which suggests the person stuck something up the guy’s ass, is a yahooism for asked.

The letter sequence ank is not in the word strength. So when a person says, “He has the strankth of an ox.” instead of “He has the strength of an ox.”, strankth is a yahooism for strength. The letter sequences ank and eng are not equivalent, so to pronounce one as if it were the other is to speak like a yahoo.

The letter i is not in the contraction can’t. So when a person says, “I cain’t remember.” instead of “I can’t remember.”, cain’t is a yahooism for can’t. The letter sequence ai and the letter a are not equivalent.

The letters t and a are not in the phrase with you. So, when a person says, “I want to go witch ya.” instead of “I want to go with you.”, witch ya is a yahooism for with you.

The letter sequence or isn’t in the word wash. So when a person says, “I need to worsh my hands,” instead of, “I need to wash my hands.”, worsh is a yahooism for wash. The letter sequence or and the letter a do not sound the same, and therefore, they are not interchangeable when saying wash. Similarly, it is Washington D. C. not Worshington D. C., and it is the state of Washington, not the state of Worshington.

The letter sequence um is not in the word them. So when a person says, “I haven’t seen um.” instead of “I haven’t seen them.”, um is a yahooism for them.

There is letter sequence ou and not a letter a in the word you. So when a person asks, “How are ya?” instead of “How are you?”, ya is a yahooism for you.

There is a letter a in the word Italy. But an older Italian-American, especially one from Little Italy in New York City, might say, “Originally, I came from Itly.” instead of “Originally, I came from Italy.”, which means Itly is a yahooism for Italy.

The letter sequence gonna isn’t in the phrase going to. So when a person says, “I’m gonna buy myself a parrot that doesn’t fart.” instead of, “I’m going to buy myself a parrot that doesn’t fart.”, gonna is a yahooism for going to. The pronunciation of the phrase doesn’t correspond to the spelling.

There is no such word as git. So when a person says, “Git the hell out of here!” instead of “Get the hell out of here!”, git is a yahooism for get. Again, there is no such word as git, which was a surprise to me at the age of 64 when someone pointed it out to me.

The letter sequence ta is not in the phrase got to. Neither is it in the phrase have to. So when a person says, “I’ve gotta go.” instead of “I’ve got to go,” or “I haveta go.” instead of “I have to go.”, gotta and haveta are yahooisms for got to and have to, respectively.

And of course, what American hasn’t been guilty of dropping the letter g at the end of i-n-g words, for example, saying, “I’m goin.” instead of “I’m going.” What’s worse is when a person combines yahooisms, for example, “I’ve gotta git goin.” or “I haveta git goin.” instead of “I’ve got to get going.” or “I have to get going.” The list of this kind of yahooism is lengthy, including comin instead of coming, bein instead of being, and walkin instead of walking.

There are many more examples of American yahooisms in pronunciation. The list seems endless at times, much to the consternation of people in other countries who attempt to converse with Americans in English or to students and others who are trying to learn the language. Mind you, not every American is guilty of every yahooism in pronunciation, but chances are, every born-and-bred American is guilty of at least one and probably several. And it isn’t easy to rid oneself of them either.

One might think the English people in that island across the Atlantic would be the best guide. They fancy themselves the final authority on all things related to the English language. But they have their own set of yahooisms in pronunciation. For example, they pronounce the name of the river Thames that flows through London, the Temms, which bears no relationship to the spelling. That is one of their more conspicuous yahooisms in pronunciation. Another one that comes to mind is the pronunciation of the word waistcoat as wescot. Wes is neither equivalent to waist in spelling nor phonetically correct pronunciation, and neither is cot equivalent to coat.

And it is the rules of phonetically correctness that are the best guide to ridding oneself of yahooisms in pronunciation. The reason is straightforward. It provides correspondence between the pronunciation of words and phrases and their spelling, using the sounds of vowels, vowel combinations, and consonants taught in every grammar school. As Noah Webster pointed out when compiling the first American dictionary, it is that correspondence that makes it easier to learn the English language and use it more effectively in communication, which after all, is the purpose of language.


Copyright January 2014 Frank Zahn. Published in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Volume 8 Issue 1 Chrysanthemum March 2014; The Writings of a Curious Mind: A Collection of Essays, Memoirs, and Short Stories, Vancouver Books (Smashwords and Kindle Editions) 2017.


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