Origin and significance of the term "yiff"
This article is a collaboration between Rakuen Growlithe and Christiaan Ferret.
When it comes to the furry fandom, we have many unique neologisms, including words such as fursona and the phrase pawing off, which have varying levels of acceptance in the fandom. Perhaps one of the most well-known is the term yiff, which is even understood by some non-furs. Generally accepted as a substitute for sexual activity, and able to be used as a verb, noun or adjective, it is now less accepted than in the past.
Commenting on the closure of ychan, Yiffy International and 420furs.org, Flayrah contributor Sonious remarked that yiff had not aged well. Shortly afterwards, Christiaan Ferret's defence of the word as a part of furry culture brought forth comments such as...
Though to me "yiff" will always just be a corny slang term that makes me cringe slightly everytime I hear it spoken aloud haha.
I find the word annoying and needlessly cutesy, and I don't have the respect for it to study its etymology. It's just a really dumb word to me, and I'm afraid I can't say anything more about it. =/
However, we believe yiff has significance to the furry fandom as part of our shared culture and history. While we understand that not everyone will care for it, we do think it important to at least understand where the term came from.
Yiff first made an appearance on FurryMUCK in the early 1990's where the character littlefox (played by Foxen/Revar) invented the cute language of Foxish. The idea of a new language may have been inspired by fictitious languages in the wider sci-fi/fantasy genre (e.g. Klingon and Elvish) which form the roots of the furry fandom. Yiff was one of seven basic sounds in Foxish and was the most happy or positive and could be used as a greeting. As described by littlefox, there was also a slang term, yipp, which was rude and served as a sexual proposition. Over time yipp was replaced by yiff and the word took its current meaning.
It's not clear for how long the original meaning of yiff survived, but the Wiktionary article cites examples of yiff in a sexual context from 1997. An alternate origin for yiff - proposed, for example in comedian Mark Allen's short piece on furry sex and on Furcen's furry glossary - is that it comes from the sound that mating foxes make.
Yiff has ensured its legacy through becoming a part of the furry lexicon. Knowledge of the term expanded beyond the fandom itself and it was co-opted by anti-furry trolls into the “Yiff in hell, furfags” meme.
In entertainment, furry comedian 2 The Ranting Gryphon produced a rant about yiffing, which now seems to be absent from his site. There was also an attempt in 2007 to create a furry musical titled Yiff! (later renamed <furReality>) which would tell the story of a fur's journey to his first convention and discovery that the person he knew online was not who they said they were. Though clips of various readings were released on YouTube in 2010, the project appears to have been abandoned.
Yiff has been a part of many sites that dealt with adult furry content, such as the aforementioned Yiffy International and its predecessors and appearing in controversial furry dating site Furfling's motto, “The place to yiff.” Perhaps the most notable site using the term was Yiffstar (The Yiffy Story Archive) which ran from 2002 to 2009 before changing its name to SoFurry to better reflect its changing ideals.
Does the term yiff still have value these days? We both think it does and that alternatives do not have the same richness in meaning as yiff does. Possible alternatives are tiny sex and sexting, but they do not completely serve our purpose. Both are just as made up, but lacking in the historical and fandom value of yiff. When one uses yiff, it conveys more information than either alternative. All three signal sexual role playing, a problem that needs to be addressed if using the far more general term of roleplaying, but only yiff describes a sexual role play in a furry context.
Yiff also has fewer established connotations than common English words. Saying intercourse or coitus sounds more clinical and devoid of feeling. Perhaps a closer alternative would be fuck, but that has a very vulgar connotation and suffers from the negative stigma of swearing in general. In contrast, yiff can be read as dirty in the appropriate context or - due to its deliberately cute sound - as innocent, if required.
Despite what some furs may assume, the use of the term yiff is not just to be different. The term has a long history in the furry fandom and creates a connection between past, present and future furs. As a fandom-exclusive word, it also lends a sense of community to those who use it. While it may not be as popular as it once was, we believe yiff's history and context can not be adequately replaced by any word currently in use.