The Grammarphobia Blog

Yikes, yoicks, and hoicks!

Q: Why has the awkward and ugly word “conflate” suddenly appeared in the media? There are so many more pleasant synonyms, but this clunker has become the rage. Yoiks!

A: I’m surprised that you don’t like “conflate.” It’s actually a pretty handy term, meaning to bring together or fuse. It’s not new, either. It’s been around since 1610, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

It comes from the Latin verb conflare, meaning “to blow together, stir up, raise, accomplish; also to melt together, melt down (metals),” according to the OED.

“Conflate” in its figurative sense, meaning to fuse two texts or pieces of information, dates from the 19th century.

The earliest citation in the OED for this usage, from an 1885 article in the American Journal of Philology, refers to two Greek terms that “are undoubtedly early, since they are conflated.”

So, this is a case of an old term being revived and looking new again.

Speaking of old terms, “yoicks” (the usual spelling), began life in the 18th century as a call used to urge on foxhounds. It may be related to an even earlier hunting term, “hoicks,” which the OED traces back to the beginning of the 17th century.

“Yoicks” is occasionally used (as you used “yoiks”) in a more general way “as an exclamation of excitement or exultation,” according to the OED.

Here’s an 1884 citation for the exclamation from Blackwood’s Magazine: “With renewed spirits he jumped into a hansom, and gave the direction … ‘Yoicks!’ cried he to himself, ‘I’m going it!’ “

Of course you may have meant “yikes,” a relatively recent term that the OED dates back to only 1971. The dictionary defines it as an exclamation of astonishment of unknown origin, though it notes similarities with … yes … “yoicks.”

H-m-m. Is “yikes” a conflation of “yoicks” and “hoicks”?

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