Daily Archives: April 26, 2011

yield

“Give me a sign!” I cried.

And then I looked up and saw it before me, glowing, golden, upon a metal standard like a great Y as in YES. And I knew what my answer was. For the sign meant “yield”, and to me that meant, more than anything else, one thing.

Cookies.

Not because I was yielding to temptation; for me, when it comes to cookies, the desire is pure and unconflicted and is followed immediately, so it doesn’t qualify as temptation at all.* No, there was no guilt, nor was I feeling I had to lay down my arms or render them forth like the yellow Sir Rodney. There was just the gilt of the golden sign and the golden cookies, and the resonance of nearly every cookie recipe in the English-speaking world: “Yield: 2 dozen” or “Yield: 40″ or…

Look, recipes are one of the top two places you’ll see yield in print (or on the web) – the other being financial documents and articles. But, now, how does one word cover the ambit from yeast to gold to arms and asphalt? What could cause one sense to give way to another, what could render these results?

Gold, of course. And payment for services rendered, or anyway payment rendered in service.

The Proto-Indo-European root at the base of all this, you see, ghol-/ghel-, gives us, among other things, our modern gold (and gilt), as well as our modern yellow, but also – by way of the Old English noun gield and verb gieldan – our modern yield. (The tongue used to stop on the roof of the mouth, [g], but its resistance was weakened over time and now it yields with a [j] “y”.) The sense of yield was first “render a sum of money” (or, simply, “pay”). It is from this that we get the sense of “produce a crop”, and from that we get other senses of production, as in recipes. From giving forth we also get the sense of relinquishing, as in arms to the enemy. Yield was a standard translation of Latin reddere and French rendre, and so it gained commonality and breadth of use. And from that we got the rather bleached sense of ceding right of way.

So, you see, it really does make sense, even if coincidentally, that the middle light in a traffic light is yellow (though some people insist on calling it “amber”). And while it is true that most “yield” signs in the world are white and red, there are yellow ones to be seen.

And many are the golden cookies brought forth in tribute by the world’s ovens. If you are seeking a sign, look to the gold on the standard; follow the Y and say yes to the yield… and you will be healed.

* “Sin” also has nothing to do with cookies or chocolate in my world, advertising be damned. There’s nothing wrong with eating two or three, and I find I can stop after that, since I know I can have another any time I want. Guilt schmilt. I exercise.