They're wonderful. They're obscure. They're often quite pointless.
What does 'yeet' mean?
What to Know
Yeet is a slang word that functions broadly with the meaning “to throw,” but is especially used to emphasize forcefulness and a lack of concern for the thing being thrown. (You don’t yeet something if you’re worried that it might break.) Yeet is also used as an interjection, most often to express excitement or enthusiasm.
Update: This word was added in September 2022.
When a new word starts making the rounds, we don’t just yeet it into the dictionary the first time we encounter it.
Instead, we wait for the word to meet our criteria for entry: sustained, meaningful, widespread use. We want to see that lots of people, over an extended period of time, are using the word to communicate a particular meaning. We’ve been watching yeet for quite a while now, and for much of that time, it seemed to fail mostly on that middle criterion: there was some widespread use, over a period of some years, but was the use meaningful? It seemed that even those shouting it out in the halls of their schools weren’t sure what they meant by it. It was a word in use, but what exactly was that use?
How 'Yeet' Is Used
But recently we’ve been encountering examples like these:
When it comes to Twitter features, number one on the wish list of the platform's heaviest users—apart from a Super Mega Block option that instantly yeets a nasty user into the sea—is the edit button.
— Caitlin Welsh, Mashable.com, 15 June 2021
And the best thing about the whole film [Cinderella 3] is Himbo Prince Charming, who earnestly listens to Cindy's mouse friends as they explain the problem, only to shake his head with a smile and apologize for not understanding them. (He also yeets himself through a window when his father orders him to not take another step, and you have to appreciate a dude that's that thick and dramatic, lol.)
— Angie Barry, The Times (Ottawa, Illinois), 9 Dec. 2021
Watch A Wooden Plank Yeet Itself Off A Truck, Through A Windshield And Somehow Not Kill Anyone
— headline, Jalopnik.com, 22 June 2021
There are many fun, safe ways you can celebrate Halloween this year. One of the suggestions here in Onondaga County—“Yeet the Treats,” as the kids say nowadays—in other words, throwing candy from six feet away.
— Amanda Chin, cnycentral.com (Syracuse and Central New York), 22 Sept. 2020
All The Things You’ll Have To Yeet Money At As An Adult & How To Not Be A Fool About It
— headline, Pedestrian.tv, 21 July 2021
As these examples make clear, yeet is being used broadly as a synonym of throw, and is applied especially when the throwing is forceful and includes more than a whiff of “good riddance!” along with it. When you yeet something, you’re not worried about how it lands.
The word is also used as an interjection: this use of yeet won the American Dialect Society’s 2018 Word of the Year in the "Slang/Informal Word" category. It was glossed there as being an “indication of surprise or excitement.”
Early Examples of 'Yeet'
It looks like the word’s first incarnation was that interjection use. In the earliest print evidence our preliminary research has uncovered, we find the following:
Today's word is: "Yeet," yelled by the Ramsay students section whenever a player makes a free throw. Its meaning? No one knows—not coaches, not players, not cheerleaders, not fans.
— “Final Four Notes,” Birmingham (Alabama) News, 3 Mar. 2007
What may be the oldest entry on the user-created Urban Dictionary is dated just a year later. (As of this writing, Urban Dictionary features 270 pages of yeet entries in order of user preference so you’ll have to forgive us for not being absolutely sure that this is the oldest one.) On March 11, 2008, user Bubba “Skoal” Johnson defined yeet as “Term used to express excitement; especially used in basketball when someone has shot a three-pointer that they are sure will go in the hoop.” Johnson also reported that the word could be used as a verb as in “to yeet someone,” but neglected to say what such yeeting would involve. (It seems unlikely that it would involve throwing the person like a basketball.)
But Twitter may have beat Urban Dictionary this time. A month before Johnson’s entry, on February 16, 2008, Twitter user @MzJetson tweeted the following:
'WITH MY MOON BEAMING IN THE DISTANCE! YEET! YEET!'
and then ten minutes later:
LMFAO @lewd. thats some batman shit. YEET YEET!
A few months later, on July 27, another Twitter user, @kevinanglin, tweeted:
8 puppies plus a few friends equals a puppy party. Yeet.
(A puppy party? Yeet indeed.)
And a few months later, on November 19, 2008, @gramalkin tweeted:
Speaking of boring: last comp sci prob set 'o the semester! Yeet!
From those celebratory beginnings, yeet mostly hummed along as an obscure slang word until 2014 when a very 21st-century thing happened. Namely, the word got linked to videos.
'Yeet' and Vine
In spring of 2014, a video on the now-extinct Vine video sharing platform went viral: it was a six-second dance by a kid identified by the moniker Lil’ Meatball. There are arm swings and some pantomimed riflery and enough of that je ne sais quoi to inspire lots of tributes and copycats.
And just a bit later, in summer of 2014, another Vine video featured a girl yelling "yeet!" as she hurls an empty soda can in a crowded school hallway, connecting the interjection to the forceful throw.
Other Types of 'Yeet'
Yeet has been growing somewhat steadily in popularity since then, with meaning slowly settling into place. Alongside it, another unrelated term has seen an increase in use too: yeet hay is a term from Chinese medicine:
"It's too hot," [Pang Yun] Fei says. She was referring not to the spice level of the chicken but the "warm" nature of fried foods as defined by Chinese medicine, which categorizes food into three thermal natures that must be kept in balance. They begin a somber conversation about the dangers of yeet hay, which [King] Cheung explains to me is a Cantonese term literally translating to "hot air" that describes what happens when you eat too much food with warm natures—namely, fried and spicy food.
— Frank Shyong, The Los Angeles Times, 27 May 2019
There’s another yeet that has not been out and about much lately. In fact, it appears to have been largely ignored for more than 500 years. The Oxford English Dictionary includes an entry for an obsolete yeet that it defines as “To address (a person) by the pronoun ye instead of thou.” (In the 15th century—the only example cited at the entry is from 1440—ye was shifting from formal singular use for “you” to general singular use for “you,” territory formerly firmly held by thou.)
English speakers yeeted that yeet long ago. (Or perhaps we can say they yote it? There’s some evidence of modern yeet taking irregular tense forms.) But it looks like they’re hanging on to this newer one, at least for a while: yeet appears to have finally settled into some established meaningful use, which means we might have to yeet it into our dictionaries in the not-too-distant future after all. Yeet!
Words We're Watching talks about words we are increasingly seeing in use but that have not yet met our criteria for entry.
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