I’m quite aware that this word, on roads in Massachusetts and New York, means “step on it.” Interstates aside, though, it’s a nice word. It has come to mean to give way, as when a corrupt Claude Rains is trying to shout down Jimmy Stewart in the halls of Congress: “Will the gentleman yield!” “No, I w-won’t yield!” And the hearts of Boy Scouts leap.
Its original meaning, though, suggests generosity, bounty, fruitfulness. Recipes in women’s magazines used to conclude with the yield: two dozen, as the case may be. Farmers still discuss what their harvests will yield. The word comes from a good Anglo Saxon verb, gieldan, meaning to yield, to produce, to be worth, pronounced YYEE-uhl-dahn, with a hard Y to begin. Its root is the same that gives us German Geld, money. We pronounce our word with a y, because of the effect of the high front vowel after the g. Make an EE sound and notice how high your tongue is in your mouth. Now say GHEE and YEE, one after the other. See how close the…
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