There was the following passage in Vanity Fair's (May 16) article titled, "Mitt “Bird Legs” Romney is ready for his boxing match.”:

Romney also revealed two nicknames. As a high-schooler, he was referred to as “Bird Legs,” a moniker Romney imagines will make a reappearance after viewers of the fight see his yams. One of his sons has bestowed him with a new nickname: “The Glove.” As Leibovich quickly catches on, it’s a play on the name “Mitt.”


I’m not able to relate the meaning of “yam” other than to “the edible starchy tuber of a climbing plant widely distributed in tropical or subtropical countries, a sweet potato,” as defined in COD.

What does “yams” in the above quote mean? Is it a slang for biceps muscles, or just a typo of “arms”?

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    I’ve never seen this usage before, and I can’t find it in any dictionaries offhand (not even UrbanDictionary has it), but from the context, it clearly just means ‘legs’ here. Probably skinny, knuckly legs (perhaps based on the shape of yams?). Could be influenced by gams, which is a more traditional slang term for (women’s) legs. (This thing, whatever exactly it is, also says yams means ‘legs’ or ‘ass’.) Commented May 16, 2015 at 1:21

3 Answers 3


It is almost certainly a typo, for gams.


Based on the context of the paragraph, I would say without a doubt that "yams" is slang for "legs," although it is not a term I have heard used in that way in my part of the United States.

One does occasionally still hear the very similar term "gams" to refer to legs, but almost exclusively in reference to a woman's legs, not a man's, and mostly in a playful or ironic "old timey" way.

Edit: a quick Google of "yams legs slang" does turn up some uses of "yams" as slang for legs, so the usage above is probably not a typo.

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    Yeah, I think I've heard "yams" occasionally, to mean legs (particularly thighs). "Gams" is generally reserved for women's legs.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 1:54
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    It is profoundly incorrect to "say without a doubt that "yams" is slang for "legs," " One could say without a doubt that what is meant here is legs. But regarding "yams" it is either (A) simply a typo (the incredibly obvious Occam's Choice - since, eg, not even google can find it), or (B) a new-formation becoming common due to confusion with "gams".
    – Fattie
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 3:20
  • I disagree. Based on the context of the paragraph, you could exchange almost any word for "yams," and it would clearly mean "legs" (to a native speaker). Furthermore, even though it is not a slang term with which I am familiar, a search on Google DID turn up uses of "yams" to mean "legs." Finally, and I did not mention this in my answer, if it had occurred on a blog or in other amateur writing, I would be much more inclined to attribute it to a typo, but this usage occurred in a professionally edited magazine, making that possibility much more remote. Commented May 16, 2015 at 13:57

The question has been answered. For clarity: "Yams" are a specific potato that is shaped roughly similar to a human leg (feminine). The slang was used predominantly in the 1940s to 1960s to describe an attractive woman's legs. "Gams" means the same thing. (Ref: Watch any "Hogan's Heroes" WWII re-run, or Audie Murphy /Colombo detective 1960s era TV show where the men use slang refer to women's legs as "yams" or "gams" - you may not like it, but case is closed.

The play comes in affixing a feminine description of Mitt Romney's legs as "yams" is to say he's not all quite man and more girly in his disposition and his legs are more womanly shaped vs. a muscular man's leg. it's an innocuous swipe, since the slang if directed towards women's physical attributes and is not used in America for males--ever. So, if it is...

You basically have two things to read into this - 1) Mitt Romney is being called out as kind of effeminate, either in his appearance or some kind of trait. So much so that his legs are actually more attractive if he was a female than having the legs he has as a male. This might not actually be true at all, but the author of the article is using this slang for a purpose. It's an attack on his character or how he's facing or doing his job in politics is more womanish vs. being tough & manly--read the full article and you'll see the author's points. ..but the author isn't only calling out Mitt Romney, he's calling out all politicians as feminine -- and here's why:

The main article (I counted five) is from Vanity Fair (2015), then passed around/edited by other syndicated columnists - all refer to a scheduled boxing match Mitt Romney, a politician was to have with World Heavyweight Champion, Evander Holifield. Many politicians have played sports; even "Bird legs" Romney but, he attended more sit in's opposing the Vietnam War in the 1960s vs. playing any sports. Being a sports champion is not a pre-requisite for success in politics - even women can be a politician or hold political office. Therefore, the swipe taken at Mitt Romney is innocuous in that a politician is going to bare his "chicken legs" in a boxing ring dressed in boxer shorts, and since he's going up against the World Heavyweight Champion, the only thing the author eludes Romney brings to the fight worth seeing will be his "yams."

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    So THAT'S what Popeye meant when he said "I yam what I yam"!
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 13:01

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