Beyond Words - Language Blog

The Origins of 10 Interjections

Many of us remember the delightful Schoolhouse Rock video in which a sick little boy, a coy lady, and a jeering crowd yell out a plethora of interjections set to a catchy tune. Interjections are some of the most fun and entertaining bits of any language; they represent a linguistic shortcut, allowing the speaker to express gut-level emotions with brief, punchy exclamations. Because most every language provides for this linguistic release valve, a lot of overlap exists between which sounds represent which emotions. Below you will find just a few of these cross-cultural cries:

10 Interjections

English Word: Ouch!
Emotion Represented: Pain
Foreign Versions: Ai; oy; ow; uy; auw; av; aakh; aïe; oof
Probable Source: Latin (au or hau)

English Word: Yuck!
Emotion Represented: Disgust
Foreign Versions: Pfui; foo; fuj; bljak; yekh; usch
Probable Source: Germanic (from the word meaning “to vomit”)

English Word: Oops!
Emotion Represented: Acknowledgment of accidental harm or mistake
Foreign Versions: Hoppla; hopp; ups; oeps; wouch
Probable Source: Old English (originally whoops)

English Word: Aww!
Emotion Represented: Sympathy or pleasure
Foreign Versions: Ah; oh
Probable Source: Unknown

English Word: Huh?
Emotion Represented: Lack of understanding or comprehension
Foreign Versions: Eh; heh; eyh; hein
Probable Source: Unknown (considered to be an onomatopoeic version of a grunt)

English Word: Phew!
Emotion Represented: Relief
Foreign Versions: N/A
Probable Source: Unknown (considered to be an onomatopoeic version of a sigh)

English Word: Brr!
Emotion Represented: Cold
Foreign Versions: Similar in most languages
Probable Source: Unknown (considered to be an onomatopoeic version of shivering)

English Word: Shh!
Emotion Represented: Command to be quiet
Foreign Versions: Sss; hush; shush
Probable Source: Latin (the act of placing a finger in front of one’s lips is attested to Roman times)

English Word: Nah!
Emotion Represented: Disagreement of disbelief
Foreign Versions: Neh; nye; nuh-uh; nuh-huh
Probable Source: Source language (usually a variation on a given language’s word for “no”)

English Word: Tsk-tsk!
Emotion Represented: Disapproval, criticism, or chiding
Foreign Versions: Tut-tut
Probable Source: Unknown (many languages – particularly those found in Southern and East Africa – utilize clicks on a regular basis throughout speech)