What Does The Word "Yahoo" Mean In "Gulliver's Travels"?


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Jonathan Swift's 1726 novel is better known for its descriptions of tiny races (Lilliput) and giants (Brobdingnag.) However, the novels is full of strange imaginary beings, and none stranger than the creatures encountered on Gulliver's last voyage, the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos.

The Houyhnhnms are highly intelligent, rational beings who happen to be horses. The Yahoos are a vile, degraded race, seen by the Houyhnhnms as a mixture of slaves and vermin; in appearance and character they are, as Gulliver realises to his horror, unmistakably human. Indeed, a female Yahoo immediately tries to mate with him (the Yahoos are promiscuous as well as sadistic, cowardly and treacherous) which confirms his fear that they are, essentially, the same species. The Houyhnhnms, whom Gulliver adores and wishes to join, also see him as a Yahoo and never fully accept him.

The Yahoos express Swift's despair and disgust at the worst of human behaviour. When Gulliver returns from this voyage he sees all humans – including his own family – as Yahoos, and for a long time cannot bear to have any human contact, an extreme form of a mood often felt by Swift himself.

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