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Yarely

Pronounced /ˈjɛːli/Help with pronunciation

Alfred Tennyson, poet laureate during much of Queen Victoria’s reign, preferred words of native English origin over those from French and Latin. He’s credited with bringing many old words back into the language. However, his son Hallam wrote a memoir in which he recalled his father regretting that he had never employed yarely.

If he had, his readers would have been as baffled by it as they were with some of his other reintroductions, because by the nineteenth century yarely had fallen out of the standard language, though surviving in some dialects. A rare notable earlier usage that century was in a work by another resurrector of antique words:

“Yarely! yarely! pull away, my hearts,” said the latter, and the boat bearing the unlucky young man soon carried him on board the frigate.

Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott, 1814.

From this, we may guess, correctly, that it means briskly, promptly or quickly. Its source is the Old English gearolíce, related to gearu, ready or prepared.

Charles Mackay and Alfred Tennyson
Two lovers of yarely: Charles Mackay and Alfred Tennyson.

The Scottish poet, journalist, author, anthologist and songwriter Charles Mackay (best known for his three-volume work of 1841, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions, and the Madness of Crowds) included yarely in his Lost Beauties of the English Language, quoting examples from three Shakespeare plays, including this one:

Speak to the mariners: fall to’t, yarely, or we run
ourselves aground: bestir, bestir.

The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, 1611.

Despite the nautical nature of these two examples, it wasn’t specifically a sailors’ word. However, the Old English gearu became yare, which is still in the seafaring language of North America, meaning a ship that is easily handled or manoeuvred. A famous appearance was in the 1940 film The Philadelphia Story, in which Katherine Hepburn said of the sailboat True Love, “My, she was yar” (a variant form, which was how the screenplay spelled it and how she said it). She explained the word as meaning, “Easy to handle, quick to the helm, fast, bright ... everything a boat should be”.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 2 Jul. 2016
Last updated: 12 Jul. 2016

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-yar1.htm
Last modified: 12 July 2016.