Thursday, June 18, 2015



We English speakers have a number of words that mean to raise one’s voice.

Yell shows up in varied forms in most of the Germanic tongues: giellan, gjalla, gillen, gellan, gellen. Yell has been a part of English since Old English was first labeled as such. Yell comes from the Proto-Germanic word gel-, to yell or shout. Some of the older forms live on in a name for a bird that yells out, the nightingale.

Our word bellow has been with us since English became itself, too. It seems to have come from the Proto-Indo-European root bhel-, to sound or roar. Back when Old English was in vogue, bellow only referred to the sounds of animals, but by 1600 we humans could bellow with the best of them.

Shout entered English about 1300 from an unknown source, though some etymologists argue that it may have come from the originally Old English word shoot, as a shout is a voice thrown or shot out. Others argue it may have come from the Old Norse word skuta, to chide or scold.

The Old English word rarian, meaning roar, bellow, lament or cry, became our modern word roar. Though nobody knows for sure, roar is most likely imitative.

The word scream is of somewhat unknown origin, though variations of it are peppered through the Anglo Saxon and Germanic languages. Scream showed up in English in the 1100s & originally meant to terrify or scare.

As I have a fascination with our ongoing prejudice against Anglo Saxon & Germanic words in favor of the more “civilized” words of Latin & Greek origin, I find it humorous that the English synonyms for yell originating in Latin & Greek are vociferate, & exclaim. To my ear, an exclamation or vociferation simply doesn’t have the guts & oomph found in a good old fashioned yell, shout, roar, bellow, or scream.

Please share any thoughts on all this in the comments section. 

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, & the OED.


  1. Yeah, vociferating doesn't have the same punch as yelling. I felt like yelling...or...I felt like vociferating! It may be more civilized but doesn't sound very satisfying. I've always liked the word bellow all though I don't believe I have ever actually used it. Or possibly ever done it, for that matter.

  2. Hi Christine,
    I'm not much of a bellower either, but my dad had beloowing down to a science. He was definitely not a vociferator.