What's up on the Internet: Yaka-wow!


Are you a breezy person who goes, "Yaka-wow!"? Maybe you already were, and just didn't know it. Alice Bell, science communication lecturer at Imperial College, London, explains:

The main reason we've all been saying yakawow is simply because it's a cool word. It should be used more. Try saying it yourself out loud - yakawow, yaka-wow. Doesn't it just make your mouth happy?

More specifically, yaka-wow is the accidental brainchild of British neuroscientist Susan Greenfield. In the UK, Greenfield is known for holding the rather controversial position that use of computers and video games irreparably damages children's brains—unless, of course, said children are using her computer games, in which case they will become smarter. You see the problem. Last Thursday, Greenfield gave an interview to the London Times, which led to this fabulous exchange:

She doesn't think computer games are life-threatening, like smoking, but she says that they are as much of a risk to mankind as climate change. [...] She is concerned that those who live only in the present, online, don't allow their malleable brains to develop properly. "It's not going to destroy the planet but is it going to be a planet worth living in if you have a load of breezy people who go around saying yaka-wow. Is that the society we want?"

Within hours, yaka-wow had inspired a Twitter stream, poster, T-shirt and burgeoning personal philosophy. But why yaka-wow? Bell says it's probably a fortuitous typo:

As it turns out, Greenfield wasn't just making up an odd phrase. It seems to be a transcription error of "yuck and wow", a phrase Greenfield has often used to describe the way people act online, running quickly from one sensation to another. Greenfield famously refereed to the banality of twitter as, "Marginally reminiscent of a small child saying, 'Look at me, look at me mummy! Now I've put my sock on. Now I've got my other sock on.'"

Naturally, that quote inspired mathematician Matt Parker to thoroughly wow the web by pulling both his socks on at the same time.

Image courtesy the brilliant mind of Adam Rutherford.


  1. Matt Parker is my new hero, replacing Sire Richard Francis Burton. However, he fails to understand that the Yaka-Wowsers lack that kind of physical coordination. It is not video game-controller-oriented. We had an attempt to turn back the tide of this phenomena way back when in the US. It was called the Presidential Fitness Challenge. It failed miserably. Hackey Sack did more than that ever did. I think Mr. Parker is a closet Hackey Dude.

  2. “It’s not going to destroy the planet but is it going to be a planet worth living in if you have a load of breezy people who go around saying yaka-wow. Is that the society we want?”

    I… think that didn’t sound nearly as bad as she intended it to…

  3. Uh…. A world of people saying yakawow is better then a world of people shooting each other and smoking. Allot like kumbaya. And what’s wring with bring in the future? This women seems
    like a bit of a hippocrit. I didn’t spell that right did I?

    1. This women seems like a bit of a hippocrit. I didn’t spell that right did I?

      “Hypocrite”, but that’s cool. We’re not going to harsh your #yakawow.

      1. tboy, I’m (almost) positive the original comment was heavily sprinkled with diced sarcasm and organic irony.

  4. I can’t get past the resemblance to a porn soundtrack. *Bowm-chika-yaka-wow, bowm-chicka-yaka-wow*

  5. I could have sworn Yaka-wow was that guy who got his arm cut off by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Mos Eisley cantina.

  6. I’m a fairly heavy Internet user: forums, blogs, facebook, twitter. This article is the first time I’ve seen “yaka-wow”.

      1. We can’t uninvent it, huh?

        This seems like something Faith Popcorn would have come up with in the early 1990s to sell more bogus trendspotting/self-help books.

        Someone wake me when we have a word to express my viewpoint of this type of trend-astroturfing. It needs to be a much stronger, more emphatic version of meh…sort of an ultimeh.


  7. I would find it interesting for video games to be made that include division of attention exercises ala Gurdjieff. I’m not talking about the vernacular use of the word “multi-tasking.” True division of attention.

  8. Oooh… technological changes cause cultural changes. Scary stuff. It’s ok. I’m breezy.


    But yeah, if I hadn’t read the article I’d have been thinking porn.

    Well rule 34 and all…

  9. Oh ye who go about saying ‘Yaka-wow’
    Dost thou know the magnitude of thy sin against thy Gods?

  10. This woman does sound to have a rather extreme view of the effect of the online world on young brains but let’s face it, she’s right about Twitter isn’t she?
    I thought her description of it was quite witty.

    (moves chair away from computer anticipating vicious slapback.)

  11. People don’t say “yuck” and “wow” anyway. They say “fail” and “win.” Clearly this woman has no idea what she’s talking about.

    1. So it’s “faila-wow”? Or “fayla-wow”, “failah-wow”. Can’t decide. Too breezy right now.

      Oh look – a squirrel!

  12. I feel a little crestfallen seeing & hearing some of the things Prof. Baroness Greenfield (CBE, Légion d’honneur) is saying. I’m hoping she is being misquoted as I remember being enthralled when she followed in the footsteps of Michael Faraday, Frank Whittle, Carl Sagan & Richard Dawkins in presenting the 1994 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (Journey to the Centre of the Brain). It really turned me on to Biological Sciences.

    1. I’m afraid she’s not being misquoted, Neill. Sadly she’s been doing some peculiar things in recent years, causing something of a saga within the Royal Institute. She crippled it, was fired by it, and is suing it for sex discrimination.

      1. Yeah, is that quote really from the same Susan Greenfield who made those excellent BBC documentaries I remember watching as a kid?

        … and have you gone to the revamped Royal Institution? Take a look if you get the chance. The new RI building is excellent and it looks like it’s had a lot spent on it.

        Her getting fired for being short on the fundraising by £2mil is comprehensible, if unfortunate.

        That quote you’ve attributed to her makes her sound plain batshit crazy, which is an altogether more serious problem.

        I’m wondering if the ‘Yaka-wow’ attribution isn’t some kind of defamation against her?

        1. She was fired for the fundraising combined with the growing levels of crazy, I believe.

          And no, that wouldn’t be defamatory. The UK is the only jurisdiction whose defamation laws I know inside out, though.

  13. No worries. What she had to say about Twitter was cogent. Everything else? Not so much.

    I’ve been playing video games since I was 5 years old. I’m now 37. I’m telling this breezy Greenfield right now, video games are not teh evul. Like, yaka-wow.

  14. Sure this isn’t some new strain of lurgi? “Yaka-wow” is suspiciously close to “yaka-bool”. Maybe it can be cured by playing woodwind instruments. (cf Millington, Spike: “Lurgi Strikes Britain”)

  15. These people sure have a yak in their wow… but it shows that you can create a stupid religion out of whatever you want.

    It does not make my mouth happy to say “yaka-wow”. In fact it makes me rather uneasy because it is not even a word and sounds like something cooked up by someone rather on the wrong side of sanity’s edge.

    Greetings, LX

  16. “breezy people saying yaka-wow” brings to mind easy going people that aren’t so jaded as to not find the world an amazing place. Yaka-wow, man!

  17. She’s certainly right about the Twitter.

    Whenever I hear of some “threat” to humanity like this, it always seems to be overlooked that 1) a huge section of society is usually too poor to adapt whatever it is that is going to ruin us all, and 2) the people who shape and change the world don’t waste their time on that stupid stuff anyway.

  18. She isn’t necessarily right about Twitter. If you really think that Twitter is terrible and causing the downfall of civilization or whatever, that’s just a sign that you’re not subscribed to the right feeds.

    There are tons of feeds by brilliant, creative people like Peter Serafinowicz who really use the medium to its true advantage. The feed shitmydadsays, for example.

    Also, if you have a small group of family and friends who have been scattered to the four winds for the usual reasons, it’s a lovely way to be connected to them daily in an asynchronous, casual way. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have everyone you care about in the same time zone, but a lot of us are not that fortunate.

    1. I would agree with that. And add that Twitter has been invaluable for me, in that I’m able to build casual friendships and share information with colleagues who I’d probably never talk to–except to maybe send them a pitch letter–otherwise. It makes it a lot easier to participate in the science journalism community, while being able to live in a place (which I love) that isn’t really a part of that community. Yaka-wow, indeed!

      If you really think that Twitter is terrible and causing the downfall of civilization or whatever, that’s just a sign that you’re not subscribed to the right feeds.

      Yes, yes, yes. It doesn’t work as a second Facebook. Don’t just add your friends and family. Add strangers who talk about topics you’re interested in. Pretty soon, they won’t be strangers and you’ll be having some great, smart conversations (as well as participating in silly memes).

  19. Yaka-wow is really the bee’s knees.

    More to the point, Twitter is a tool. It can be used for usefulness or for entertainment, occasionally both at the same time. Frankly, the notion that everything we create and do must somehow carry us to a greater good that only a few define is one of the things which work against our well being. Sometimes, it’s okay to just ~~be~~. Yaka-wow indeed.

  20. Wait a MINUTE! I’ve had a major neuroscientific break-in. Through! Breakthrough!

    “Yaka-wow” is the very latest iteration of “baaaaaaaa.”

    I feel better now. I’m getting a sort of apres-meh feeling and that feels good.

  21. I do not see Bell writing about this on either her own blog or her recent guest blog re: Greenfield. Could you provide a direct link, or clarify that you got these quotes from some type of interview?

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