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Often I talk with people and they say "yeah". What do they mean? I'm only in USA recently and everyone says "yeah". I gather it means "yes", but I also hear "yeah" when it doesn't mean "yes"?

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  • I also hear "yeah" when it doesn't mean "yes": Yeah!
    – Kris
    Nov 8, 2014 at 14:03
  • can be used to get out of any situation known to man (walk into room full of people in suits who turn and stare at u) \YEAH! (walk out) More on UD: urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=yeah
    – Kris
    Nov 8, 2014 at 14:05

1 Answer 1

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In conversation:

  • it can mean, "I'm listening and I understand what you're saying, please continue".

  • with a questioning intonation, it could mean "Is that really what happened? I am surprised. Tell me more".

  • with a vehement intonation, it could express strong sympathy or agreement that a course of action is correct: "I understand your feelings. I think that you did the right thing. Any other course of action would have been unthinkable. Tell me more."

  • with a sarcastic intonation, it could express incredulity: "I doubt the truth of your statement. You will need to provide stronger evidence if you want to convince me". Often this is heard as "oh, yeah?" or (expressing complete disbelief), "yeah, right!" urbandictionary.com

  • when doubled ("yeah yeah") and said in a bored tone, it means "I am bored with what you are saying and want you to stop talking". It may also indicate disbelief. urbandictionary.com

In pop songs, "yeah" is often used is a gap-filler with no real meaning except perhaps to emphasise what has come before it: "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah".

This use is now somewhat cliched.

"Yeah!" can also indicate satisfaction. At the end of a song, a musician or a fan might declare "Yeah!", meaning "That song was performed well, and I am happy. I have 'rocked out' in a more than satisfactory manner. I am very pleased".

In the context of supporting teams or other groups, yeah can be used to mean "I strongly approve of my group and believe it is superior to other groups, and is sure to be victorious". Often "hell yeah!" or "fuck yeah!" (although in other contexts that can just indicate vehement agreement). This attitude of self-assurance can slide into self-satisfaction, as parodied in Parker/Stone's "America, Fuck Yeah!".

"Hell Yeah!" baby

See also:

Aizuchi is the Japanese term for frequent interjections during a conversation that indicate the listener is paying attention and/or understanding the speaker. In linguistic terms, these are a form of phatic expression. Aizuchi are considered reassuring to the speaker, indicating that the listener is active and involved in the discussion. ... These can be compared to English "yeah, yeah", "yeah, ok",

In linguistics, backchannels are listener responses in a primarily one-way communication. These can be both verbal and non-verbal in nature, and are frequently phatic expressions, primarily serving a social or meta-conversational purpose, rather than involving substantial two-way communication.

... The secondary channel of communication (or backchannel) is that of the listener which functions to provide continuers or assessments,2 defining a listener's comprehension and/or interest.

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    Which is a jingoistic attitude expressed by great nations when they stand on the threshold of incipient decline, such as Britain in the 1890s.
    – WS2
    Nov 8, 2014 at 9:45
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    @WS2: Yes, much in common with 'by jingo'. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jingoism#Etymology Youtube has an interesting clip of Jon Stewart using the term 'full America fuck yeah' to mean a maximally gung-ho foreign (military) policy. I didn't put it in the answer though because I think he is referring to the movie - the phrase hasn't yet become detached from its source.
    – A E
    Nov 8, 2014 at 9:54
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    Are we gonna win the game on Saturday? Hell yeah!
    – TimR
    Nov 8, 2014 at 12:28
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    Not forgetting "Yeah, right!" which basically means "not bloody likely!" Nov 8, 2014 at 13:29

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