Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Ted asked about the origin of yahoo, today meaning a lout or a rube, an unsophisticated person contemptuous of the arts and the nuances of culture.

The name Yahoo first appeared in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Swift used it as the name of an imaginary race of brutes having the form of despicable human beings. They are portrayed as sadistic, cowardly, and treacherous: "..the YAHOOS appear to be the most unteachable of all Animals, their Capacities never reaching higher than to draw or carry Burthens. Yet [!] I am of Opinion, this Defect ariseth chiefly from a perverse, restive Disposition. For they are cunning, malicious, treacherous, and revengeful. They are strong and hardy, but [!] of a cowardly Spirit, and by Consequence insolent, abject and cruel."

When Gulliver returns home from his travels, he sees all humans – including his friends and family – as Yahoos. This is part of his satirical intent in writing the work.

Given the negative connotations, it’s surprising that the search engine Yahoo! chose that name. There are a few theories.

Yahoo! Media Relations says that the company name was an acronym for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle." But the two founders of Yahoo!, David Filo and Jerry Yang, claim that they liked the general definition of a yahoo: "rude, unsophisticated, uncouth." It’s difficult to separate company flak from authenticity.

From another angle, yahoo! is an enthusiastic interjection, in a class with yippee, hee-haw, and whoopee. Finding precisely what you are looking for can be exhilarating.

Finally, an Australian entertainer (re)named Yahoo Serious implies that the company stole his name.

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