Tuesday, February 06, 2007

What is a “Yahoo”?

On the home page of Yahoo.com is a little section called “Pulse--What Yahoos Are Into,” which contains a list of popular videos and albums. I have seen it over and over, but for some reason, it penetrated my consciousness a few days ago. Suddenly I realized what it says. “Yahoos,” in the definition of the search engine’s creators, are apparently “cool” people who do their important Internet searching through the Yahoo web site—those loyal to Yahoo.com.

I had to laugh at the joke those makers of Yahoo.com are playing on us.

The origin of the word “yahoo” is . . . well, I hate to tell you this. But according to Merriam-Webster, a “Yahoo” (when the word is capitalized) is “a member of a race of brutes in (Jonathan) Swift's Gulliver's Travels who have the form and all the vices of humans.” The dictionary goes on to say that when it is not capitalized, the word means a “boorish, crass, or stupid person.”

Needless to say, then, to be called a “Yahoo” is not a compliment.

Jonathan Swift wrote in Chapter 7 a detailed description of the Yahoos, a wild and odious species that his character Lemuel Gulliver encountered during his travels. Here is a sample:

My Master, continuing his Discourse, said, There was nothing that rendered the Yahoos more odious, than their undistinguishing Appetite to devour every Thing that came in their way, whether Herbs, Roots, Berries, the corrupted Flesh of Animals, or all mingled together: And it was peculiar in their Temper, that they were fonder of what they could get by Rapine or Stealth at a greater Distance, than much better Food provided for them at home. If their Prey held out, they would eat till they were ready to burst, after which Nature had pointed out to them a certain Root that gave them a general Evacuation.

There was also another kind of Root very juicy, but somewhat rare and difficult to be found, which the Yahoos sought for with much Eagerness, and would suck it with great Delight; and it produced in them the same Effects that Wine hath upon us. It would make them sometimes hug, sometimes tear one another, they would howl and grin, and chatter, and tumble, and then fall asleep in the Dirt.

These Yahoos sometimes resemble monkeys and apes, but more often, humans, engaged in the most obnoxious, nasty behavior. Should we be insulted—or amused—when we see that Yahoo.com refers to its masses of users as “Yahoos”?

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