Tut tut

The click sounds I mentioned yesterday are only found in a small number of languages spoken in southern Africa. Somewhat similar sounds, known as interjections, are used in others languages, though not as in the role of consonants. Instead they convey various extra information about the speaker’s mood or opinion.

For example, in English you might tut or tsk when you’re irritated by something. Whistles can be used to indicate appreciation or surprise, among other things, and the sucking of air through the teeth is often a sign that more money than was originally expected is likely to change hands, especially when employed by a car mechanic or a builder. Ah ha! can be used to show that you’ve understood something; huh!? for incomprehension; ow! when you hurt yourself; oh! for surprise; um when you’re not sure what to say; and oh for disappointment, as in “oh well, never mind (put the kettle on/have a nice cup of tea)” – very British expression that one!

What interjections in your language, and how are they used?

This entry was posted in Language.

17 Responses to Tut tut

  1. Polly says:

    One of my favorites in Armenian is “Amaaaah” accent on the 2nd drawn-out syllable. This is usually followed by “inch amot e” “How shameful.” I use this all the time. But, when I do it, I’m being sarcastic.

  2. BnB says:

    In Japan I’ve found that the sucking-in-air-between-the-teeth sound generally means surprise of some kind, sometimes good, but mostly, if you hear that, it’s not good… You’ve missed an expectation, insulted someone, made a ridiculous proposal…

  3. BG says:

    Oh is used like English in quite a few other languages. In German: O Weh! (similar to Yiddish expression) and also in Lain (ō!), and Ancient Greek where it is often used with the vocative: ω Ζευ! (O Zeus).

  4. Yitzhakofeir says:

    Fairly often I use “Psh” to mean “whatever”, “Eh” for something like “Hold on a second, that’s not right” and “Tsss” for “Heh, that’s almost funny”

  5. Zachary says:

    But I also imagine that an interjection could hold different meanings depending on pitch, intonation and context. In any case, French is pretty similar to English for interjections (at the exception of literary ones). Oh is often replaced by Ah : “Ah?”, as in Ah, vraiment?/Oh really? “Ah!” some sort of expression of amazement (e.g. Ah! Que la neige a neigé). “Ah.” I understand . Then there’s others like “Euh…” for err… or um… “Ayoïe” for ‘ow’ or ‘ouch’. “Hein” for ‘eh?’.
    And in English I’ll also use “You like grapes, eh?” used in the sense of ‘don’t you?’ or ‘right?’ “Meh.” for being indifferent about something. “Pfff” to express a certain disagreement. “En hen” (nasalized), for either agreeing with something, or sarcastically agreeing (in the sense of ‘yeah, right.’/disbelief). “En en” for disagreeing.

  6. Steve says:

    In the Irish gaeltacht areas, native speakers (Ulster dialect anyway) often take a deep intake of breath making a sort of ‘aye’ sound when they are agreeing to something you might say. It sort of sound like they have asthma on first encounters!

  7. Steve says:

    There is also a program on BBC3 at the moment called ‘fat men cant Hunt’ where a few brits are roughing in in the bush amongst a tribe who use the click sounds. (San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia) Its very interesting listening to what is a totally unfamiliar language. Is it similar to zulu?

  8. Thai has a lot of these; at times, I think you could have a whole conversation using them!
    Some of the more common ones are:
    เอ (ay) is a verbal pause or hedge…like the English “Er…”
    อุ๊ย (uey) – said with a high tone, it’s the equivalent of “oops!” You might say this if you spill something.
    ว้าว (wow) – just the same as the English “wow”; it’s most likely a borrowing.
    If someone is getting on your nerves, you might respond with หนอย (noy) to express your rising anger. The best we can do in English to express this Thai interjection is to flare our nostrils.
    แหยะ (yea) or หย (yee) – this is what you say when you see something disgusting, like “yuck!” the latter word sounds a bit effeminate when spoken by men, though.
    ว้าย (waai) – is what a woman would say if she is startled or surprised. Again, men using this word sound effeminate.
    อุ้ย (uey) [said with falling tone] and วุ้ย (wuey) are what men say if they are startled or hurt. It can range from a “hey!” to an “ouch!”
    Both men and women can say กึ๋ย (geuy) when startled.
    โอย (oy) is used when you are frustrated, angry, or in pain. Men might use โว้ย (woey) as a variant, but it’s considered vulgar.
    เฮ้อ (hur) is like the English “phew..”
    If you are really surprised at something, you might say หา (haa).
    แหม (meh) is used if a child says something cute or you are pleasently surprised or find something amusing by something someone just said.
    โอ้โฮ (oh hoh) is an interjection of surprise or amusement…you might use this when noticing your friend has a new hairstyle.
    อ้าว (aow) is used when something doesn’t turn out as planned. In English, we might express this by a sigh of disappointment.
    Many Thai scientists and philosophers exclaim อ๋อ (aaw) after making a discovery or acheving some sort of epiphany.
    ชิ้ว (chiu) this is the same as the English “shoo” as in chasing an animal away.

  9. Paul says:

    A peculiarly northern-English one, used mainly by children in the playground, is a long, drawn-out “Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!”.

    Conveys more information than you might expect – I’d translate it as something like “I can see you’re doing something you’re not meant to be doing, and I’m going to tell the teacher / your mam ….”

  10. Mike says:

    @ Paul:
    In America (at least in my area), that same thing would be “Ooooooooooooooh!” with a bit of a rising tone.

  11. Polly says:

    LOL! I had no idea what Paul was talking about until Mike “translated” it into American, “Oooooooooooooh!” That, indeed, is a very familiar sound. One that I heard plenty of when I was growing up.

  12. jdotjdot89 says:

    I would say that the variety of interjections in even one language could probably express conversation without words themselves, when combined with intonation, body language, and context. That’s what makes it so interesting.

    Some in Hebrew/Yiddish (I’m not sure which is from which, sometimes both):
    נו/nu? – can mean just about anything from “come on already!” to “duh” to “what do YOU think?”
    ehhhhh – the way Israelis and many other language speakers say “um”
    אוי ויי/Oy vey – self explanatory, I think.

    I don’t feel like going on, but for an interesting discussion of this type of stuff, see The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten, something I was just reading last night.

  13. Josh says:

    In the USA, you’ll hear african americans ‘smack’ their teeth as a sign of disdain or annoyance. I’ve also heard some of my friends from Congo and other parts of africa do this same thing. For example, when I give my kids pop quizzes, some of them go:

    “(smack) Maaaan, but we haven’t studied this!”


    “(smack) That’s not fair…”

    Sometimes, after being reprimanded, they’ll simply just suck their teeth:

    Me: You’re so having After School Detention today…
    Student: (smack)

    I’m left to wonder if this is a remnant of a click language spoken in africa. You’ll rarely ever hear any other cultures doing this.

  14. Evans Knight says:

    in hindi the term “accha” can mean a variety of things. it can signify surprise, outrage, agreement, or “man, that’s cool”

    also, “arre va,” in my experience, is used in much the same way, except i have seen it more often used to mean “wow” or to express disapproval.

  15. New Zealand Coffee Lover says:

    In NZ “ow” is a sentence enhancer made popular by Jeff the Maori of Bro’Town, our national cartoon.
    “Not even ow” is the most known

  16. Joe Sweeney says:

    Growing up in the States, I think there was the widespread belief that the French expression, “ooo la la,” had a peculiarly sexual connotation, suggesting that someone or a particular action was alluring. However, while living in Paris for two years I don’t recall hearing the expression used in this way. I always heard it used as an expression of exasperation or incredulity concerning another’s opinion or some insupportable action. I remember a French colleague use it in the course of a somewhat heated disagreement with another colleague. Finally fed up with the argument the other party was making she looked up, rolled her eyes and said, “Ooo la la,” before walking away in disgust.

    Are there French speakers here who can shed some light on this expression?

  17. Jeremy MiNor says:

    In Tagalog we use ‘ay nako’ similar to ‘mama mia’ in Italian or my mother says ‘Jesmaroseph’ a combination of jesus, mary and joseph when shes especially upset. 🙂
    Also i’m part korean, my cousins have used ‘ai go’ when something is hopeless or upseting, it seems alot like ‘ai ya’ in chinese languages.

%d bloggers like this: