I'm from New England. Here we use the expression to yard on something meaning to pull hard on it. For instance, you might hear

She's stuck up in that tree. If you want to get her down, you're going to have to yard on her tail until she comes loose.

I was curious where this sense of the word came from, but I can't so much as find a dictionary that has this definition. Most don't have yard as a verb, and of the ones that do, it is defined in a way I am not familiar with ("To enclose, collect, or put into or as if into a yard.")

Does anyone have a reference or more information about this sense of the verb yard?

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    I don't have a reference, but I might suppose it to be a portmanteau of "yank hard"?
    – DopeGhoti
    Dec 27, 2013 at 19:47
  • I don’t think I’ve ever used ‘yard’ as a verb, but if I heard it, I’d probably assume it meant something like the definition that’s unfamiliar to you, unless context made it clear it means something else. A truly unfamiliar definition is given by the OED, though: “In the Isle of Man, to summon for hiring: used of the hiring of servants by the coroner of a sheading on behalf of those entitled to a prior claim for their services at a low wage”. Now that is something I’d never heard of before. Dec 27, 2013 at 19:57
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    Not answer but some other's research on the question: wordwizard.com/phpbb3/…
    – Jim
    Dec 27, 2013 at 20:00
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    Here's a 1976 reference which may be relevant. As soon as one log was in, or "yarded," it was detached from the line; then the horse hauled the line back from the donkey engine to the waiting choker setter and the next log. Clearly in that context, the sense is hauled/dragged to the storage yard. Which may have shifted over time so just the dragged sense remained. Dec 27, 2013 at 21:07
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    I too am from Maine and heard my mom use this a lot. My southern husband does not understand me! Haha
    – user96439
    Nov 3, 2014 at 1:13

5 Answers 5


It's a difficult one to search for. I checked old newspaper archives but nothing came up. The best information I've found is a forum post with thorough research by Ken Greenwald.

Greenwald didn’t find it in any historical newspapers, magazines or journals but did find it used in sports circles such as mountain and rock climbing, starting in the 1990s. It may have been passed from sailing due to the connection with rope: there may a further connection to the nautical ‘pulling really hard on a halyard'.

He got in touch with DARE:

I was pretty much at a dead end on this but it did sound, as you suggested, like it might be a New England regional term. I would have checked my Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), which specializes in this sort of thing, except that volume IV only goes as far as 'Sk' and volume V, which will contain ‘Y,’ is still on the drawing boards. I contacted DARE editor Joan Houston Hall (University of Wisconsin, Madison) this morning to ask her if she had anything in her files on this one and she replied as follows:

<“The only remotely similar thing I found in a quick check is this: 1949 in 1965 DARE File Ann Arbor MI, "If anyone takes my drink, I'll yard him with a necktie." Informant. . . did not remember where he had picked up the expression, but [it] means vaguely 'to hang.' Probably from expression 'to hang from the yard arm.'“>

See his full post for much more.


Some tree felling (ie logging) activities use a "yarder" to pull the felled timber to a collection area. The "yarder" has a system of cables plus an engine.

  • This seems like it's close. The Free Dictionary lists "yarder" as another word for "winch", so that's right in the ballpark.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Dec 15, 2015 at 21:51

Might it not be reasonable to suppose that this phrase may have an origin rooted in the close association of many New Englanders with the sailing industry in earlier days? For instance, the word halyard, literally and originally a "rope for hoisting sails", was for centuries in English used mainly to describe simply that - a rope used to haul heavy canvas sails up into place hanging from one of a mast's yards - has passed into common usage today as referring to all sorts of "rope" (e.g., the halyards supplied and/or provided a tie point for by some knife or tool manufacturers, Old Spice's marketing publications' use of the word to refer to some iterations of their "soap-on-a-rope" products, etc.). It would perhaps seem most likely that the word halyard is simply a slang contraction of the expression haul yard, and that this is an example of the etymological evolution of the words and phrases of a language. Accepting this premise might well lead one to conclude that the phrase "to yard on it" underwent similar "evolution" from a shipping-specific usage in reference to hoisting heavy sails to a more general application amongst "landlubbers", especially in a populace with a large percentage engaged in or with the sailing industry, as all historical evidence of New England would assuredly confirm existed

  • The etymology of halyard is a corruption of the word hallier due to association with the word yard. (Taken from OED.com) Jan 22, 2014 at 15:59

It would be interesting to know what part of New England you are from. I have lived in various parts of NE all my life as has my family on both sides. The areas we lived ranged from the Boston suburbs, to small towns in Vermont and New Hampshire. My grandfather, in particular, used a lot of idioms that I have heard nowhere else, such as "the guy threw me down" to indicate that he had not passed his driver's test, and so on. I have never, anywhere, heard "yard" used in this way. Having consulted my relatives in 3 NE states in the last 3 days, I can say that none of them has heard this, either. It may be regional to an unusual degree, if you heard it correctly and are not misusing the word yourself.

  • I grew up in Maine. I usually attribute regionalisms to New England, but it's possible this usage is unique to the Downeast Maine dialect.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jan 13, 2014 at 14:34

This is offered without support or date:

highball, yard on it, pull 'er back - Maximum allowable speed. Also, a "highball" is a signal given the conductor when the train is ready to depart.

(From "Railroad Slang", by Bill Prieger, NERR Engineer #269 and others. At the North Eastern Railroad site.)

I found it in no other gloss of railroad lingo, and there's no indication of whether or not this use rose from another preceding use, or even when this yard on it railroad slang was in use.

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