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Is that an enthusiastic yep? Or are you feeling a little meh?

Nov 9, 2014

A little over a hundred years ago, Americans created a few more ways to say "yes."

University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan says "yes" is an old English word that goes back about a thousand years. 

 "At the end of the 19th century, we start to see these new versions of 'yes' show up in the U.S.," Curzan says.  "'Yep' is first cited in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1896. In 1905, we have 'yeah' show up, and in 1906, 'yup,'" Curzan says. 

And today, especially on social media, we see lots of "yeps" and "yups." Do they mean the same thing?

"I do think there are people who think 'yep' and 'yup' work differently – that 'yep' is more enthusiastic. It means 'I'm ready, let's go' whereas 'yup' can feel a little drawly," Curzan says. "I can't find evidence that these are regional in any particular way."

"Nope" is another word that peppers our language.

"I'm not sure what was going on at the end of the 19th century that we were doing this, but 'nope' first shows up in 1888, right around the same time as 'yep' and 'yup,' and again it's an American form," Curzan says.

And then there's "meh."

"It comes from Yiddish," Curzan says. "There are citations as early as 1928 for it as an interjection meaning 'be that as it may' or an adjective meaning 'so-so.'

"Ben Zimmer wrote a great piece about this in the Boston Globe," Curzan says.

According to Zimmer, it's TV's "The Simpsons" who get credit for bringing "meh" into the spotlight in 1994.

*Listen to the full segment above.