• yeoman •
yo-mên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An attendant, subordinate, or lesser official, especially in a royal household, as a yeoman of the guard, also known as "Beefeaters". 2. A clerical petty officer in the US Navy. 3. A dependable, competent, hard-working person.
Notes: Until recently, female yeomen were referred to sometimes as yeomanettes, sometimes as yeowomen. Since 2007, when Moira Cameron became the first female yeoman to serve at the Tower of London, yeowoman seems to have taken precedence.
In Play: In the US today this word is used most often in the Navy: "Steve O'Dore likes to be called 'Captain Steve' because he once served in the navy—as a yeoman." Outside the navy, it is widely used in the third sense above: "You can always depend on Fowler Fairweather to do the yeoman's job at anything he is asked to do."
Word History: Today's Good Word is another one of those rarities in English: a word that has always been English. In Middle English it was yoman, probably a reduced form of yongman, a variant of youngman, used at one time to designate an attendant or servant. Young is related to Latin iuvenis "young", source of English juvenile, as we mentioned in our treatment of Juneteenth. Man, referring to a human rather than a hand (as in manual), is found in Sanskrit manuh "man", but turns up mostly in Germanic languages. A variant of man occurs in German Mensch "man, person", which has entered English via Yiddish in the sense of "decent person". (We can always depend on our long-time friend Alan Janesh to do the yeoman's job in flushing up Good Words like today's.)
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