Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Yin Yang is the Chinese philosophy of Light and Shadow, often signifying the need for balance or that everything exists in balance.

But the (reasonably enjoyable to use) phrase

Up the Ying Yang

or

Out the Ying Yang

Doesn’t really make sense in this context (and it seems the spelling in the phrase has changed too) as it means to do something in the extreme, or to have a profusion of something. It sounds like it should be referring to a long river that someone has to travel up, connoting an extreme of something.

I can’t find an online etymology of this even after Googling and looking on Wiktionary amongst other online dictionaries, only a few ‘discussion’ here and poor explanation here.

Where did this phrase come from? Am I using it right?

share|improve this question
    
Is this question unlikely to help any future visitors, only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet? –  Kris Oct 27 '12 at 14:14
4  
@Kris In a word, no, it is not such. –  tchrist Oct 27 '12 at 14:28
    
Pureferret, you may now like to rethink the title. –  Kris Oct 27 '12 at 14:32
2  
@Kris actually, I still quite like it. –  Pureferret Oct 27 '12 at 14:51
add comment

1 Answer

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Um, your yin(g)-yang is a minced oath for one or another excretory orifice. So yes, you are using it “right”, although I would myself set it in lowercase, and possibly hyphenate it or fuse into a single word: ying-yang, yingyang.

It is similar to — really, equivalent to — up the wazoo, or any number of similar “nonsense” terms for the unmentionable parts. The somewhat reduplicative yingyang also gets used for the same thing that other reduplicatives like dingdong, dingaling, dongalong, pangwang, willydilly, wangerdanger, wangadoodle, and hoohoodilly all also do, and is similar in construction. (Ramalamadingdong may or may not be related.) Sometimes those have hyphens, and sometimes they don’t.

Here is one reasonably citable reference:

Take a term rendered in a foreign language, let’s say “yin and yang.” Have people start mispronouncing (and misspelling) it as “ying and yang,” bring in a slang term for what polite people call the buttocks—“she’s got talent out the ying-yang,” add a rap group called the Ying-Yang Twins, and pretty soon more people will think that “ying” is correct.

[...]

Not so “wazoo,” another reference to one’s posterior. As with “ying-yang,” the phrase “out the wazoo” means an abundance. One can also claim that something is a “pain in the wazoo,” and even people who don’t know what a “wazoo” is will understand.

Here, the venerable Oxford English Dictionary weighs in. While it professes not to know the origin of “wazoo”, it says that others suspect it may come from the French oiseau, or bird, through a Louisiana Creole term, “razoo”, for raspberry. (Those with particularly fertile dirty minds may be able to make the connection.) It’s almost exclusively American.

These are North American slang terms, which is probably why they seem foreign to you if you are in the UK.

share|improve this answer
    
....really? I've never heard of this. Where'd you get that from? –  Pureferret Oct 27 '12 at 13:23
1  
@Pureferret I can confirm that "out the yinyang" was already current in East Alabama in the early 1960s in exactly this sense. –  StoneyB Oct 27 '12 at 14:43
1  
Excelsior! But are there any etymologies for ying-yang, like your one for wazoo? –  Pureferret Oct 27 '12 at 14:56
4  
@Pureferret I fear that deep analysis of such schlong-words as yinyang, dingdong, wangadoodle, or hoohoodilly are sadly lacking in the professional literature. –  tchrist Oct 27 '12 at 15:38
1  
@FumbleFingers: "shufti"? Is that an acronym, or a secret cabalistic handshake that gets you in to the back room? –  Mitch Oct 28 '12 at 18:59
show 3 more comments

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.