A word meant for a food. Its apparent source, the west African word nyam – which refers originally to the act of eating – is even more so: not simply onomtopoeic but, more than most words could be, mimetic. Naturally this word is likely to make one think “yum.” It also has the yeah echo, which may be positive, reserved, or ironic. We know that Popeye loved spinach, but he surely made many people think of this word: “I yam what I yam.” Those who encounter Latin often, for instance in choral music, may also think of it whenever they meet the word iam – as in iam amore virginale totus ardeo (a love for virginal yams burns everything up?). Yam is a small word for what is actually a rather large tuber; the y does root into the ground, but the rest is just there, more in size like the smaller sweet potatoes, which often borrow this name. Sweet potatoes are actually unrelated to yams (and they’re sweeter), but when west Africans came to the new world (not usually voluntarily), like most people moving to new places they tended to name unfamiliar things with available familiar words (think buffalo, for instance, or sparrow – and we should remember that hippopotamus comes from Greek for “river horse”). Recently wild yam has become popular in natural health circles, while habitués of brew pubs are more likely to ask for yam frites.
Be a patron!Support Sesquiotica and get extra premium content and goodies. Starts as low as $1 a month! Find out more and subscribe on Patreon.com
I am for hireI earn my living as an independent editor, writer, and educator. Find out more and contact me at jamesharbeck.com.
Buy the T-shirt (or coffee mug or hip flask)
Wear it proudly:
I operate on a NEED-TO-KNOW basis. I need to know EVERYTHING.
Buy it at cafepress.ca/sesquiphernalia
12 Gifts for Writers ebook – free download
Buy my books
Buy my books on Lulu.com:
- Confessions of a Word Lush (paperback)
- Confessions of a Word Lush (ebook)
- Songs of Love and Grammar (paperback)
- Songs of Love and Grammar (ebook)
- 12 Gifts for Writers (print edition)
You can also get them on Amazon.com. Please note that I make less than half as much per book if you buy them there, however.
Word Tasting Notes Google groupGet just the word tasting notes daily by email – join the Google Word Tasting Notes group.
- Coffice Space
- from the bookshelf
- language and linguistics
- new old words
- Poetry Minute and a Half
- pronunciation tips
- The Week
- Word Country
- word pictures
- word portraits
- word reviews
- word sommelier
- word tasting notes