There’s a reason ‘yonder’ rhymes with ‘wander’.

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Southern American English has plenty of quirks. We’ve already examined ‘y’all,’ ‘fixin',’ and ‘bless your heart,’ words and phrases that have helped to define the Southern linguistic landscape. We’ve also described how to decode (and cope with) the often-mystifying occurrences that are Southern directions. But there’s one phrase that still stumps even the most seasoned of out-of-town guests.

Ask a Southerner for directions and, sure, we’ll give you north, south, east, and west, but you’re also in for something a little more complex. In addition to actual roads, you find that directions given by Southerners also make use of moving targets and local landmarks (some of which may or may not still be standing). More often than not, you’ll also hear a classic Southern refrain. A query of “Where is it?” will maybe/probably/almost certainly receive the answer “Over yonder.” Usually, the phrase is accompanied by a vague-to-definite pointing motion indicating the general area in which ‘over yonder’ exists.

While the accompanying gesture helps, ‘over yonder’ can still be difficult to decode. (There’s a reason ‘yonder’ rhymes with ‘wander.’) Merriam-Webster defines ‘yonder’ as “at or in that indicated more or less distant place usually within sight” and “being at a distance within view or at a place or in a direction known or indicated.” So perhaps the accompanying gesture isn’t just helpful, but necessary. Once you receive a direction of ‘over yonder,’ take your context clues and directional cues, and get going. You’re in for an adventure.

‘Yonder’ comes from the Dutch ‘ginder’ (meaning “over there”) and the English ‘yon.’ We Southerners inherited yonder and have embraced it wholeheartedly. No matter where you’re headed, ‘over yonder’ is probably an accurate description, though getting there may prove a challenge. Its variants appear in some of our favorite musical and literary works, including: Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (“And nuns came … and built over against the monastery on the yon side of the vale”); Carole King’s “Way Over Yonder” (“Way over yonder / Is a place that I know / Where I can find shelter”), and Richard Peck’s A Year Down Yonder. Also, Chaucer, anyone? “‘Lo, yonder saw I last my lady daunce!”

‘Yonder’ has a rich history, which you too will be part of the next time you get lost in a wander looking for ‘yonder.’

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Is ‘over yonder’ one of your favorite Southern sayings? What Southern words and phrases do you always wonder about? Let us know, and we'll help you get to the bottom of them.

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