06 January 2008

Yum Yum

Speaking etymology here, folks.

So some online hacks will have you believe that 'yum yum' is a phrase indicative of baby-talk and first came into usage as an interjection in the later Victorian period. I'm having trouble believing that.

The American Heritage Dictionary (probably the best portable book on American usage) says 'yum' is onomatopoeia, presumably having to do with the sound induced by gastro-olfactory hypersensitivity. I think this more likely.

However, there is a third rail.

The Indo-European root 'yeu-' is the source of the Latin word 'iuventis' and the Germanic words also meaning 'youth' or 'vigor'. Now, I realize from an etymological point of view that it is highly unlikely, but wouldn't it be nice if the word 'yum' was a generations-removed derivation from the very ancient Indo-European word meaning 'possessing youthful vigor'.

Would that be the case, perhaps it would suggest that yummy food is indeed the source of the fountain of youth.


Anonymous said...

The wonders of the web... I've just been searching for the etymology of "yum yum", and stumbled upon your thread.

I am pondering it because I was in Poland recently with my girlfriend. we were in a restaurant and I had ordered the Galonka (Pig knuckle). When it arrived, I exclaimed - "yum yum". She looked curiously at me and asked "did you just say "jem" - which means in Polish - "I eat".

So, with my amateur etymological hat on, me thinks that "yum" derives from the Polish "I eat" / "jem", and became an English word over time. Can anyone else confirm / deny this supposition?

Shelly Blake-Plock said...

Unlikely, but interesting for a different reason.

Dig: Polish and English are both on the same level of the Indo-European language tree. So, it's more likely that if indeed the Polish word is related to 'yum' (which I doubt for other reasons... but let's go with it here) it is for the same reason as the English. In other words, the Polish word did not come into English, but rather both the Polish word and the English word have a distant common ancestor.

I say it's interesting because I hadn't even thought about all the Indo-European derivations of 'eat'. That'll be a post for another day.


Anonymous said...

I have a better theory; Yum means "to eat" in several African languages. (Via the slave trade, this is also the origin of the word yam.) In Peul, nyam. In Serer, Nyami. In Wolof, nyum means "to taste." These groups were some of the earliest brought to the Americas as slaves, and worked in kitchens. (Gumbo and jambalaya are both wolof dishes, for example.)

Makes more sense to me.