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Yeet (/ji:t/) is a recently coined verb in English that seems to have taken on the characteristics of a strong verb, as seen in this hilarious urban dictionary definition.

In English, the strong verb system is no longer productive and has almost completely disintegrated, but some American English speakers are back-forming strong verbs, such as dove instead of dived and snuck instead of sneaked (for me, a native American English speaker, dove and snuck sound more correct than dived and sneaked).

It seems that the same thing has happened with the verb yeet. There is an ongoing discussion especially among younger people over whether yeet's past should be /ji:təd/, ("yeeted") or /joʊt/, ("yote").

The problem is, Germanic strong verbs don't behave like this. The /i:/ to /oʊ/ ablaut is really weird, and might mean the word was originally in class 5 but switched classes, and anyways means yeet should be spelled *yeat. Even more problematic is that in class 5 there is the word /it/ which in the past is /eɪt/, so perhaps yeet's past should be yate?

I feel that this is a very interesting topic as it seems to be (at least to my knowledge) the first coined strong verb. Is the past tense really yote, should it just be yeeted, or does it fall into another category of irregular English verb entirely? Are English strong verbs sercretly productive in certain situations (such as only with relatively simple verbs phonologically like yeet, or in American English only) or are they dead and gone? If there is a new strong verb system emerging, what does/should it look like?

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    Re firstness, there is en.wiktionary.org/wiki/twote. – Adam Bittlingmayer Jul 3 '18 at 16:35
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    Not that it's wrong here, but this might go well on ELU – Mitch Jul 3 '18 at 22:31
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    Also...what the hell is 'yeet'? Is UD the only source? If so, you may want to provide attempts at your own explanation with actual uses of it from the web (not UD; it's not particularly reliable) – Mitch Jul 3 '18 at 22:32
  • Weird. I too looked at the question title and spontaneously thought of "yote". – Luke Sawczak Nov 24 '18 at 13:48
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Although it may be tempting to look back towards Old English prototypes, one has to be aware of the time depth of any neologism. That's why finding the first occurrence is so important.

The interjection yeet! and the noun yeet (referring to the dance) is dated to 2014 on Vine, which came into more common use among teenagers about the end of 2017. It appears to me that the verb derives from the noun, through standard English zero derivation ("verbing").

Although strong verbs are basically non-productive, a small set of one-syllable verb neologisms end in stop consonants, thus having the phonological appearance of Germanic strong verb. To "tweet" is perhaps the most salient example; although "tweeted" is basically standard (based on the original standard verb), "twote" and (perhaps self-consciously) "twat" are attested. However, the limited numbers of verbs fitting this pattern suggests that this ablaut (vowel change)-based past tense is not productive and is not undergoing some kind of resurgence in 2018. That doesn't mean to say that there won't be exceptions. Sociolinguistic factors, including various forms of prescriptivism, jocular or otherwise, do have an influence on language, however limited it may be.

So why is it "yote" and not "yeet" or "yate" that won out as the irregular "joke" past tense form? It is more fruitful to look at analogy in dealing with neologisms, especially in web English. I think the strongest influence would probably be "speak", past tense "spoke". Has that /i:/ with a final non-nasal stop consonant. Also common enough to exert an analogical influence.

(As a side note, yeet actually could be a legitimate English verb with a long pedigree. It is an earlier variant of the more common ye, meaning "to address with you/ye" [similar to French vouvoyer or German siezen]. The OED dates the Middle English version to 1440.)

  • I agree with most of this answer, but I am confused about one part: are strong verbs actually associated with word-final stop consonants? Many seem to have other endings, like drive, give, see, rise, draw. – ewawe Jul 4 '18 at 20:12
  • If anyone wants analogy, there's "meet", suggesting that "yeet" could make "yet". – Rosie F Jul 5 '18 at 7:59
  • @sumelic Just a frequency thing. Of the top 100 irregular verbs, about a third end in a stop consonant or a stop cluster (including nasals), although those ending in a fricative number about 20%. Those that end in a vowel are only a shade blow 20%. However, these stats are not weighted by frequency. The rest are the liquid endings r/l (and plurisyllables). – Michaelyus Jul 5 '18 at 8:17
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I don't understand what you mean by saying "might mean the word was originally in class 5 but switched classes". You have said that yeet is "recently coined". It doesn't seem to have an Old English etymology, so there is no possible history of "switching classes" between time periods like other verbs have done. I don't think imagining a history for it will help analyze it.

You've provided another example of a strong conjugation that doesn't fit into the usual paradigms in your question: snuck. So apparently the statement "Germanic strong verbs dont behave like this" is an over-simplification. It's not uncommon for languages to have, alongside identifiable conjugation patterns, some verbs that have exceptional conjugations.

Is the past tense really yote, should it just be yeeted, or does it fall into another category of irregular English verb entirely?

There is no "really" or "should" about it. If people form some consensus about what the past tense form is, then whatever that form is will become established. Before then, it's impossible to say.

I haven't participated in the "ongoing discussion" that you say is going on, but I would imagine that many people just go with whatever they think sounds funnier. Word play and jokes don't have to follow "rules" that are just based on historical processes. I don't know if you're familiar with the trend of using irregular plural noun forms as a joke in English, but I would say that's a good example of how this kind of "irregularization" doesn't have to respect any historical principles: people say "meese" (sometimes, not always) even though the word "moose" did not come from Old English and never underwent the historical process of umlaut, and stick "-ii" on all kinds of words that don't come from a Latin word ending in "-ii" in the plural.

Are English strong verbs sercretly productive in certain situations (such as only with relatively simple verbs phonologically like yeet, or in American English only) or are they dead and gone?

I don't think this is a correct dichotomy. Strong verbs are clearly not dead: we see frequent and pretty consistent use of strong conjugations for certain words, such as drive or sing. Not being dead isn't the same thing as being productive.

  • This doesn't warrant a separate answer, but there's a missing link in your argumentation. Analogical formations are formed by modern speakers by logical abduction: they are generalising on the basis of perceived patterns. If the pattern is no longer productive, then the generalisation may not follow the erstwhile rules—which current speakers no longer have intuitive access to. (That's the abduction part: generalisation can result in innovation.) That applies whether the analogical formations are jocular (meece, meeses) or serious (snuck). – Nick Nicholas Jul 4 '18 at 0:58
  • I'll add that there are still prescriptive style guides used in English, even if linguists don't like it. :-) If the New York Times had occasion to conjugate yeet in the authorial voice, it would need to make a call on which past tense to use which would case minimal surprise to readers. In that context, the preferred form would likely be the less obviously jocular/less markedly innovative form, which would be the regular yeeted. OTOH, in a jocular context, the jocular analogical formation yote would have a lot going for it. (As the Urban Dictionary entry demonstrates.) – Nick Nicholas Jul 4 '18 at 1:02
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I have been informed by my students that "yeet" (past tense: yeeted) means to throw back behind you. To throw in front of you is to "fleet."

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It's yeeted, as in Rosa Parks got yeeted to the back of the bus. Used at 0:23 in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRtk8kvI7GQ&list=PLoKfsvRDJYt3FdoXx48UBvvqIyt_z_YQ4

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