Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Larcenous Interjection

A quick one for this Tuesday word-of-the-week: a term that I was surprised to learn may have originated on The Simpsons.
yoink (yoingk) — interjection: a phrase spoken while taking an item without permission of its owner, esp. to call attention to the act. verb: quickly take an item without permission of its owner, esp. in a joking manner.
I remember a friend in college discussing how her roommate completely failed to understand how to use the interjection yoink. I’m sure the friend had watched The Simpsons a few times, as anyone my age would have had ample occasion to do, but I wouldn’t have pegged her as a Simpsons fan. And yet here she was, trying to explain a concept that is widely considered to have originated on the show as if speaking the word yoink while stealing were as a natural a thing to do as, say, wincing when nails meet chalkboard or giggling when you watch a dog trip and fall down.

I don’t, however, remember thinking anything was strange about the alleged first yoink, spoken by Homer in the fourth season episode “Duffless.” (Keep in mind that it aired on February 18, 1993, when I was in fifth grade and didn’t know anything and essentially had to let The Simpsons teach me about the world. I kind of just took anything The Simpsons said as gospel and then repeated in an effort to make people think I had a sense of humor.) In the episode, Homer has just managed to withstand thirty days without a beer and decides to celebrate this fact by going to Moe’s. Here’s the dialogue, as recorded by The Simpsons Archive:
Marge: Mmmm… You don’t have to start drinking right away. I was thinking we could go for a bike ride.

Homer: But Marge, the barflies are expecting me. Larry, and Barney, and that guy who calls me Bill.

Marge: But you look better, you don't sweat when you eat any more, and look — [holds up a wad of cash] You’ve saved more than a hundred dollars. I found it in your pants.

[snatches money] Yoink!
And that sound effect has been reverberating through history ever since — on subsequent Simpsons episodes, as this series spanning list notes, but also in non-animated life. I’ve used it. I’ve had it used against me. And I guess I didn’t think much of it until I stumbled across the Wiktionary entry for yoink and noted that it credits Simpsons writer George Meyer with being the first person to use it on record. I’m happy if that’s the case, though, and I’m gladdened by the prospect of people announcing their every act of thievery.

The Simpsons, by the way, is also credited with popularizing meh, the ultimate all-purpose non-committal word, as well as a slew of other terms that have yet to make it into dictionaries. Also of interest: The blog HeiDeas has been faithfully cataloguing linguistic jokes on the show since 2005.

Previous words of the week:
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  1. I adore this word. I use it frequently alongside "gank," which, I suppose, is what you are doing when you say "yoink."

    My boyfriend still has no idea how to use it. He says "yoink" when he thinks he's tricking someone...

  2. Anonymous5:42 PM

    I spoke with George Meyer at TED two years ago and he confirmed that, in fact, he invented this word. He gave credit to other Simpsons words to other writers, but "Yoink" is his, and he's rightly proud of it.


  3. It's a great word, yoink. Its sound is irresistible, with elements of the similarly euphonic and cartoonish boing, oink, and zoinks. I use it occasionally, mostly when yoinking food from a family member - an act performed with their tacit permission, or at least tolerance.

    By the way, James Joyce used meh in 'Ulysses', not as a verbalised shrug but as the sound of a calf before slaughter.

  4. Anonymous4:09 PM

    Shaggy often used "yoinks" as an interjection of surprise or shock on _Scooby Doo_, well before Homer's usage. If I'm remembering correctly, there was often a "yoinks" from Shaggy followed by a quick retreat.

    So maybe we went from yoinks = getting away to yoink = getting away with someone else's goods?

  5. I think that, in one of the commentaries, Meyer (or somebody on the staff, anyway) said that "yoink" was basically a vocalization of the traditional cartoon sound effect for taking something.

  6. Excellent post, you're doing an impressive work, and it's all about my passion: words and linguistic matters. I think we can share a lot of material together because I've got a similar website and it's be nice if you come and leave a comment about that atypical interjection! by the way, I saw the same conversion between Homer and Marge and it was so funny, specially when he said "Larry, and Barney, and that guy who calls me Bill"... ha ha ha

  7. I have never heard of this word. I guess you learn something new everyday!

    1. Thanks, weirdly coherent spambot!