The other “y”

The Spanish y that everyone knows is the one that means ‘and.’ Actually, everyone knows the other y, too, but almost no one recognizes it as an element in its own right: it’s the y at the end of the hay that means ‘there is, there are.’ The first element, ha, is the third-person-singular present tense of haber ‘to have.’ The y that follows is what linguists call a bound form, meaning that it no longer functions as an independent word. It developed from Latin ibi ‘in that place, there,’ so hay means literally ‘it has there,’ which is semantically akin to English there is. Some of you will recognize hay as the counterpart of the synonymous French il y a (unlike Spanish, French requires the dummy subject ilello/it,’ and the order of the other two words is reversed).

A Latin compound of ibi was ibīdem, which meant ‘in the same place.’ In footnotes and endnotes, writers use ibīdem, usually abbreviated ib. or ibid., to indicate that a statement comes from the same source mentioned in the previous note.

The Indo-European root underlying Latin ibi was *i-, which the American Heritage Dictionary designates a pronominal stem. Another Latin word based on that root was the adverb item, which meant ‘in that same manner, likewise.’ A tradition arose of using item to introduce each new entry in a list: “and likewise this thing, and likewise this other thing, etc.” Eventually each member in a list came to be known as an ítem/item. Colloquial English limits the list to two in calling a pair of romantically involved people “an item.” Where English has turned item into the verb itemize, Spanish has not, preferring to use the unrelated detallar.

Native English words based on the Indo-European root *i- include the archaic yon, the only somewhat more used yonder, and the common compound beyond. The root also appears in native English yes, whose second element comes from the same Indo-European root as Spanish es, so yes originally conveyed the idea ‘that’s how it is, it’s that way.’

Yes, that’s how it is in the world of etymology.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maria
    Mar 17, 2018 @ 17:32:05

    Makes me think of ‘i’ used in the other Latin languages, such as ‘ici’ (French), ‘qui’ (Italian), ‘aqui’ (Spanish), and ‘aici’ (Romanian). I just learned Romanian is also a Latin language.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 17, 2018 @ 18:10:18

      Yes, the word Romanian is closely related to Roman, the civilization whose people spoke Latin. That’s also why the languages that evolved from Latin are called Romance languages.


      • Maria
        Mar 17, 2018 @ 18:13:26

        Yes, but it’s geographically distant. I just read it has 66% Latin-based words and 20% Slavic-based words.


        • Steve Schwartzman
          Mar 17, 2018 @ 18:23:55

          The Slavic influence has indeed set Romanian apart from the other Romance languages as a group. One peculiarity of Romanian is that it regularized its number words above 10. Where Spanish once has become mostly opaque, Romanian unsprezece is clearly understandable as un ‘one’ + spre ‘after’ + zece ‘ten.’


      • Maria
        Mar 17, 2018 @ 18:23:48

        I just read: “The Eastern Romance languages are a group of Romance languages that developed in Eastern Europe (specifically in the Balkans) from the local variant of Vulgar Latin”. There are also the ‘Western Romance Languages’.


        • Steve Schwartzman
          Mar 17, 2018 @ 18:28:00

          I see that that article goes on to say of the others in the Eastern group that “their classification as separate languages is controversial and is rejected by a majority of Romanian linguists.”


        • Maria
          Mar 17, 2018 @ 18:59:26

          I meant to also mention that “Portuguese is part of the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several dialects of Vulgar Latin in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, and has kept some Celtic phonology and lexicon.” I meant to add that they also say ‘aqui’ with the ‘i’.

          That’s really interesting about Romanian ‘once’ Steve. Thanks for analyzing that one.

          What you say about the native English words based on the Indo-European root *i is fascinating, specially about English ‘yes’, and the same Indo-European root as Spanish ‘i’ and ‘es’.


  2. shoreacres
    Mar 20, 2018 @ 08:57:07

    When I was still quite young, I can remember yon being used by some of my grandmother’s friends. I don’t think it was a common word, but it would pop up in sentences like, “He’s gone to yon field.” I remember it because I confused it with yawn, and had to learn the difference.

    Yonder, on the other hand, is still pretty common if you like certain kinds of music. I’m thinking of the gospel hymn “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” or “Way Down Yonder On The Chattahoochee.” I suppose my all-time favorite is “Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key”, an unpublished Woody Guthrie song for which Billy Bragg wrote the tune.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 20, 2018 @ 09:57:53

      Gospel music is more likely than other kinds of music to preserve archaic words and phrases. While Elvis was all shook up with a hound dog, he also sang “How Great Thou Art.”

      I don’t believe I ever heard anyone say yon except when reading it or quoting it from an old text. Yonder has fared better. In 1938, Robert MacArthur Crawford wrote “Off we go into the wild blue yonder….” As recently as 1971, Carole King could say “Way over yonder / Is a place that I know…,” but her song still strikes me as rooted in a religious tradition. “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” is new to me.


  3. shoreacres
    Mar 20, 2018 @ 10:06:13

    When Bragg was asked to compose music for the old Woody Guthrie songs, he teamed up with the band known as Wilco. The first album was titled Mermaid Avenue, after the place Guthrie lived in Coney Island.


  4. Playamart - Zeebra Designs
    Mar 26, 2018 @ 15:11:47

    I’ve always appreciated the normal ‘y’ which comes in handy for a shortcut when writing an informal note to a friend. when i see the word, ‘hay,’ my mind rolls to a phrase that i’ve grown to dislike: “No Hay” – used so often in the campo or small towns where every tienda seems to have the same items, but never the item in need!


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 26, 2018 @ 16:37:07

      Sorry to hear that the negative, no hay, is at least sometimes more common than the positive version. One of my frustrations living in Honduras was the unavailability of many things, along with frequent inefficiencies in providing the things that did exist.


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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