Do you use or remember dow or jess/jearse, words for “no” and “yes”? If so, I would like to hear from you.

I am researching the words for “no” and “yes” in New England and other parts of the U.S. and Canada settled by people from New England. Ayuh is already quite well known, but colonists from the East of England, where I grew up, may have brought dow and jess/jearse to New England in the seventeenth century. Four hundred years later, these special words for “no” and “yes” still survive in England and America today.

Gerald E. Lewis gives an example of daow in How to Talk Yankee:

Did you get your deer yet?
Daow, I can’t even see one.

And an informant from New Hampshire gives an example of jearse, stating that “I totally just thought this was a weird NH thing”:

Hey, have you seen where the muffin tins went?
Hmmmm, jearse, in the oven I think.

In the East of England, we still use dow and jearse today. However, these words for “no” and “yes” are not recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary or the Survey of English Dialects. Nor were they recorded by the Linguistic Atlas of New England; but the Dictionary of American Regional English cites daow, daowddow, doh or day-oh in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island as well as New York State. There is also daow in New Hampshire. For “jearse or jess,” informants in my survey cited jass in Upstate New York and possibly Vermont, jearse in New Hampshire, jyesdjess or jess in Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, with a possible jess in Boston.

I am writing a book or article on dow and jearse in America and would like to hear from you. The aim of my research is to find out how widespread dow and jearse are in the U.S., how people use them, and how they came to America.

This research is part of my project Jearse and dow and the origins of “yes” and “no.” It might seem that “yes” and “no” are simple words. But there’s the standard yes and no, informal yeah and nah, and regional ayuh and nay. We also have political aye and yea and triumphant yay. And we can say yep and nope. We can vocalize as uh huh and uh-uh, and gesture by nodding and shaking our heads. So we have more than a dozen ways of communicating “yes” or “no.” This trimodality — language, vocalization and gesture — is quite exceptional, making “yes” and “no” an important area of research in understanding the origins of human communication.

To take part in the Dow Jearse Survey, click here…