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Yo /ˈj/ is a slang interjection,[1] commonly associated with North American English. It was popularized by the Italian-American community in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1940s.[2]

Although often used as a greeting and often deployed at the beginning of a sentence, yo may also come at the end of a sentence and may be used for emphasis or to direct focus onto a particular individual or group or to gain the attention of another individual or group.

Etymology and history[edit]

The interjection yo was first used in Middle English.[3][4] In addition to yo, it was also sometimes written io.[5]

Though the term may have been in use in the 16th century, its current popularity stems from its use in Philadelphia's Italian American population in the twentieth century, which spread to other ethnic groups in the city, notably among the African Americans, and later spread beyond Philadelphia.[6]

From the late twentieth century it frequently appeared in hip hop music and became associated with African American Vernacular English, as seen in the title Yo! MTV Raps, a popular American television hip-hop music program in the late 1980s.

Notable uses[edit]

A frequent example of the expression is fictional Philadelphian Rocky Balboa, where the word is used throughout all of the Rocky films and is part of the iconic line, "Yo, Adrian, I did it!", which was ranked 80th in the AFI's list of 100 best movie quotes.[7]

The phrase "Yo, Blair. What are you doing?" was supposedly an informal greeting that United States President George W. Bush gave to British prime minister Tony Blair during the G8 summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on 17 July 2006. However, other sources state that Bush’s usage of the word "yo" is a “myth” and that the president actually said "Yeah, Blair".[8]

Other uses[edit]


  1. ^ "Yo - Define Yo at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  2. ^ Dalzell, Tom (1996). Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam Webster. p. 185. ISBN 0-87779-612-2.
  3. ^ "yo: definition of yo in Oxford dictionary (British & World English)". Archived from the original on November 13, 2013. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  4. ^ Harper, Douglas. "yo (interjection) etymological definition". Online Etymology Dictionary. Mr Douglas Harper. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
  5. ^ Yo, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
  6. ^ Dalzell, Tom (1996). Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam Webster. p. 177. ISBN 0-87779-612-2.
  7. ^ "AFI's List of Nominated Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  8. ^ Susie Dent (2007) The Language Report: English on the move 2000–2007
  9. ^ "Language Log". Retrieved 7 November 2014.


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