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For most native English speakers the word 'yonder' is either archaic or poetic. For many native speakers in the Southern United States however, it is still a word in common but declining use. Those who still use the term rhyme it with 'wonder' rather than 'wander.'

Having used the term all my life I notice that there is a distinction between the meaning of the phrases 'over there' and 'over yonder' which I have never seen mentioned in a dictionary.

One may say "The ball is over there where you are" but not "The ball is over yonder where you are." However, one can say either "The ball is over there in the bushes" or "The ball is over yonder in the bushes."

The distinction appears to be that 'yonder' is somewhere distant from both the speaker and the 'spoken to' whereas 'there' just means somewhere distant from the speaker.

Can anyone who also uses the term 'yonder' in everyday speech or someone familiar with English dialects verify this distinction.

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    My (perhaps mistaken, beware!) understanding was there used to be 3 categories of proximity, right here, where I am, over there, a distance away, and waaaay over yonder, a great distance away. This is still evidence in some other romance languages, like Spanish, with its aqui / alli / alla trio (this last being frequently translated as yonder). I don't know about its use in modern day English dialects. I've never encountered the "distant from both you and me" concept. – Dan Bron Oct 21 '17 at 19:26
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    I've lived in the US for all of my 68 years, and I've never been aware of a distinction that wasn't just in terms of absolute difference -- "yonder" more distant than "there" -- though tone of voice and arm motions are also a big part of it. However, I've never spent much time in the rural South. – Hot Licks Oct 21 '17 at 19:31
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    I don't see how "yonder" rhymes with "wonder" unless you pronounce both "wonder" and "wander" the way they are spelled. Over here (UK) we pronounce "wonder" as "wunder", and "wander" as "wonder", although recently on BCC TV I am hearing pronunciations alien to me. – Weather Vane Oct 21 '17 at 20:07
  • If I used the word yonder at all, I would only say "yonder farm is two leagues distant" meaning, it is not nearby. In UK it is archaic. – Weather Vane Oct 21 '17 at 20:10
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    @JohnWaylandBales That's not the way Jed Clampett said it. – Hot Licks Oct 21 '17 at 20:41
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I think it would be a mistake to assume that yonder generally represents a greater distance from the speaker than there does. Either term, unadorned, is ambiguous as to distance. The key to conveying a sense of how distant a thing "there" or "yonder" actually is lies in the modifier or modifiers attached to it, although some resulting phrases (such as "over there" and "over yonder") remain exceedingly vague as to distance. Consider, for example, the popular World War I song "Over There" by George M. Cohan, where there referred to "in Europe"—that is, across the Atlantic Ocean.

Because many people today do not use yonder as a standard part of their vocabulary, they may associate it with a particular usage that implies considerable distance, as in the song "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans." But for people who use yonder regularly, I suspect, the range of distances that the term can comfortably comprehend is quite broad. My grandfather, who was born in western Kentucky in 1903, used yonder occasionally and variably, often to indicate an indefinite place—for example, "the cows are grazing out yonder," meaning that the cows are grazing in a nearby pasture but it isn't entirely clear which pasture or which part of a single pasture they are in.

You can get a sense of the range of use of yonder in everyday speech in regions where the word was common by looking at recorded examples of its use (in the sense of "there; at or in that place") in Harold Wentworth, American Dialect Dictionary (1944):

'Yonder it is, Squire' [1871, Georgia]

'It [the river] rises yander' [1881 Tennessee]

'a-standin' out yander' [1888, Georgia]

'The road is back yander' [1895, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina]

'You must do this or go down yander, one!' [1902, Illinois]

Denotes a long distance & an uncertain direction. 'His folks live back yander,' meaning no particular direction or distance. 'I heerd he was going back yander where he came from.' [1903, Missouri]

Extremely common in 'over yonder' [1905, Arkansas]

'[a]way yonder' = far [1906–9, Arkansas]

A noun used with a preposition to express a specified place. 'In yonder,' = in the place specified. 'Over yonder' refers often to the future life. 'Look ayonder.' [1908, Alabama, Georgia]

'It's yunder over in the corner' [1909 Massachusetts]

'That's my gat down yonder.' [1911, Massachusetts]

'It is in yonder' [1915, West Virginia]

'See that tree over yender?' [1917, Ohio]

'Out yonder' and 'The woods back yonder' [1917, Vermont, New York; 1920, North Carolina]

'He went yander right now!' = disappeared in haste [1923, Missouri]

'He is down yander' [1925, West Virginia]

'I got another pipe yonder home ... away down yonder in dem thickest pine woods ... a-sleepin right yonder on de bed ... Youcould stay yonder to school ... de boat yonder on de river ... I ain' got a stick of wood yonder home' [1928 South Carolina]

'Looky yonder' = Look there. Used of any small or great distance. [1930s, West Virginia]

'Over yonder on the grinsad.' [1930, Maine]

'that hollow back yander' [1936, Kentucky]

'round yonder back of that piney pint' [1937, Kentucky]

'There he goes! Yander, see 'im!' [1938, Kentucky]

'Gone too fur yonder' [1938, Florida]

'Look yonder ... sitting right up yonder ahead of me ... Look a-yonder [1940, Gulf of Mexico states]

'over yonder ... is where it ends ... from here to yonder' [1940, Mississippi]

'Yonder comes Ced ... Look comin' up the street yonder' [1940, Arkansas]

'that beech grove down yander' [1941, Kentucky]

'Yonder atop the roof' [1941, West Virginia]

Wentworth selected these examples mainly to show variants in pronunciation, prepositional use, and regional distribution of yonder; but the examples also convey a sense of how broadly applicable yonder was to different situations for speakers who used the term frequently. For some of them, at least, yonder seems coextensive with there as a term for position or distance. Such speakers might at times use yonder in connection with distant locations, but they might also use it in reference to the corner of a room they were sitting in, for example, or a bed elsewhere in the same house.

The decisive factor in defining how distant yonder is for a particular speaker, in other words, is whether the speaker uses the word frequently and widely in situations where other speakers might use there, or whether the speaker uses it relatively rarely and in particular contexts—for example, as part of a longer set phrase such as "way over yonder."

  • That is an interesting collection and all seem appropriate to my understanding of 'yonder' meaning somewhere away from both speaker and listener. But if my understanding of the term ever had a wide usage, it would probably have been noticed and remarked upon, so I conclude that I learned a perhaps local, idiosyncratic distinction. – John Wayland Bales Dec 21 '17 at 6:38
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I guess I've always vieweed "there" as being a more specific, perhaps closer, location, while "yonder" is a more vague, perhaps further, location. "The ball is over there"would seem to indicate a more specific, perhaps closer, location than "The ball is over yonder" does.

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