Article published in:Words in Dictionaries and History: Essays in honour of R.W. McConchie
Edited by Olga Timofeeva and Tanja Säily
[Terminology and Lexicography Research and Practice 14] 2011
► pp. 153–168
The origin of the word yeoman
Numerous attempts to discover the origin of yeoman failed to produce definitive results. The element -man poses no difficulties. The problem is yeo-, a relic of some prefix or of an independent word. Among the putative etymons of yeoman two have enjoyed special popularity: *gāman ‘villager’ and yongman ‘young man.’ Neither is fully convincing. The OED cites yeomath ‘a second crop of grass’ and traces yeo- in it and in yeoman to a form of young. However, yeomath has analogues in German and Dutch, where its first element has been explained as meaning ‘additional.’ Consequently, yeoman must have been ‘an additional man/servant.’ Yet some problems pertaining to the circumstances in which the word was coined and to its phonetics remain.
Keywords: compound word, etymology, Middle English, Old English, prefix, yeoman, yeomanry
Published online: 12 May 2011