Jerry Seinfeld might indeed be the originator of “Yada Yada”, but my brother coined the term “Up the Ying Yang”. Without the help of a TV program drawing millions of viewers or a stand up comic, my brother launched a descriptive, evocative phrase at the age of 5 that has since circled the globe!
Do you have family jokes, words and phrases that only your family enjoy? You might be sitting on something that can spruce up the rhetoric of the English language.
When my brother was young, I often read bedtime stories to him in his room in the basement. We had the Grimm’s Brothers Tales and Hans Christian Anderson’s folktales but I frequently read him books that I was interested in. When I was fifteen and he was five, we were reading Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth.
Supper times at our house were a time of conversation. Older kids would be asked about school and my brother, who was not yet in school, would be quizzed about the book being read to him. It was in retrospect excellent preparation for gathering and presenting one’s thoughts. My brother surprised me when he was asked, because he remembered the name of the book, that it was about
“Where were they going?” my dad continued.
My brother struggled. “Yang, Ying, Yat” before he blurted out confidently , “They were going up the Ying Yang” . Then he looked around proudly, sure that he had got it right.
“Up the Ying Ying?” My father asked his eyebrows raised as the rest of us hooted with laughter.
“He’s close”, I opined. "It’s the
We laughed long and loud, so my brother, as kids will do, continued to use the phrase. If he couldn’t find a sock or tee shirt-- it was up the Ying Yang. When we were heading off for a car ride to visit my dad’s friend and none of us had ever been there, we were heading up the Ying Yang, accompanied by peals of laughter. Soon the whole family were using the phrase to mean the unknown, the lost or even someone who was confused for any reason.
I was at university when I noticed other people around me were using it. It has an onomatopoeic ring to it which connotates bewilderment and confusion. It is self explanatory, providing a verbal embellishment of a situation. I can’t ever recall anyone needing to ask me what it meant. It is also a very descriptive way of saying someone is off topic.
Later when I was teaching at university, I would occasionally use it and soon I noticed others were using it too.
Now it is out there and it has a life of its own. The other day I heard someone, whom I am sure that my family and I have never spoken to, using it on the radio.
If constitutes a wonderful personal story about something, but I am not sure what. Either it is that we are all connected in vocabulary terms by only six degrees of separation and our unique family joke has made it out to the world. Or it could be related to to the 100 monkeys truth, that when a new skill is learned by 100 monkeys on one isolated island it is not long before monkeys everywhere have acquired the same skill—a sort of collective transfer of consciousness for monkeys. It is also possible that a wonderfully evocative phrase began for similar reasons, about the same time in several widely separate locations around the same time. What do you think? Do you have such a family story?
Photos: Bro and his pumpkin crop, Bro painting in dad's shirt in the bath