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The origin of the word <i>yeoman</i>

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Abstract

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: *g&#257;man &#8216;villager&#8217; and yongman &#8216;young man.&#8217; Neither is fully convincing. The OED cites yeomath &#8216;a second crop of grass&#8217; 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 &#8216;additional.&#8217; Consequently, yeoman must have been &#8216;an additional man/servant.&#8217; Yet some problems pertaining to the circumstances in which the word was coined and to its phonetics remain.

References

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