You may have encountered this meme, as vintage as it may be, now lurking in the depths of internet history and being dug up from time to time. A simple misspelt sign appearing in 2008, this has come to spread far and wide. But this is not a one-off event. Signs reading “Yard sard” or “Yale sale” have been popping up occasionally, sometimes making it into the realms of the internet. If you are a linguist, or a language enthusiast like me, your first question might be, why?
It turns out, in the field of psycholinguistics, such errors are usually grouped under the umbrella term of “speech errors”, also known as so-called “slips of the tongue”. These errors would produce a deviant form of a phrase one intended to produce. While studies like these mainly focus on the verbal, or spoken aspect of language production, it is curious to see how even these phenomena in speech trickle into the written language.
However, unlike speech, different conditions would apply for writing. Nervousness, fatigue, anxiety, or intoxication would contribute differently in written errors compared to speech errors. Nevertheless, the appearance of “Yard Sard” is hardly ever the first of its kind — common scribal errors have been documented in written texts throughout history, especially when all text were purely carved or inked.
One instance is the homeoteleuton, or “like ending”, where words are repeated at the end of sentences. An example in which this may arise is when a scribe, or writer, paused writing, then resumed, albeit skipping ahead several words or characters due to the “likeness” of the endings of two lines, leaving out a portion of a passage. This has been proposed or documented for errors in manuscripts, like the Bible.
But, “Yard Sard” or “Yale Sale” is hardly ever a piece of scripture. Far from that. Another case we could examine, in this case, would be to look at incidences where texts like notes contain such written errors. It may be intuitive to propose that writing quickly would increase the likelihood for such errors, thereby a so-called “slip of the hand”, but it remains to be researched in the field of linguistics, and corpus texts.
So, why do multiple forms of “Yard Sard” exist? “Yale Sale” is perhaps one of the most common variants we have seen. While some errors do appear to be intentional, such as those that were inspired from the meme, more conventional errors do seem to fit into some of the categories highlighted under “speech errors”. “Yard sard” is put forward as a form of preservation, where an earlier segment replaces a later item in the next word, as we see “-ard” replacing the “-ale” in “sale”. “Yale sale” is consistent with the pattern of anticipation, where a later segment replaces a part of an earlier segment. This may explain why “-ale” in “sale” replaces the “-ard” in “yard”.
While “Yard Sard” might be an old meme, its presence is still rather real in the linguistic context. Literature covering things like these are relatively difficult to come by, but its spoken cousins in speech errors are quite extensively explored. I am curious, if there is a similar motor basis in which written language could be distorted, producing unintended deviations in text. It is something I would want to explore more about, and hopefully, there would be a follow up on this little curiosity.