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Definition: sharp desire, hunger

Pronunciation: YEN


The noun yen was introduced to the English language in 1906 and was earlier (1876) used to describe the intense craving for opium. Yen comes from the Chinese (Cantonese) yan which simply means craving, and in the Beijing dialect it is the word for smoke. Yen was reinforced in English by the influence of the verb to yearn.

Why this word?

This is the only word I can think of that lexically connects between desire and smoking. We can go as far as saying that the Cantonese word for smoking was coined first, only then followed by the sense of desire, which remained till this very day and even managed to linger into the English language.

I never smoked opium (really, I haven’t) but three months ago I quit the terribly terrible habit of smoking cigarettes. Although during the first week I eased my yen with (the probably excessive) drinking of red wine (really, not vodka) I can now say that these two senses, of yearning and smoking, should not be lexically connected one to the other.

I do not yen cigarettes anymore. Nor do I yen opium.

Speaking of opium, the image shows Afghan opium growers satiating their yen for opium right there in the field. They seem to be quite relaxed considering the war tank behind them…

How to use the word yen in a sentence?

Yen is a great synonym for desire, and does not have to do with smoking of any sort.

“I have a real yen for a jumbo shrimp right now”


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Written by Victoria Sheinkin

Victoria Sheinkin is a writer, content editor, translator and chief editor for Speaking three and a half languages, she holds two BAs from the Tel Aviv university- Communication and jounalism, English literature and linguistics.


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