100 Mostly Small But Expressive Interjections

By Mark Nichol - 4 minute read

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They often seem disreputable, like sullen idlers loitering in a public thoroughfare, but they actually do a lot of hard work and are usually persnickety about the tasks to which they are put. They are interjections — one class of them, anyway: those lacking etymological origins but packed with meaning.

But how do you know how to distinguish similar ones — or spell them, for that matter? Here’s an incomplete inventory of interjections (not including variations of actual words such as yeah for yes or onomatopoeic echoes of externally produced sounds like boom):

Ack communicates disgust or dismissal.

Ah can denote positive emotions like relief or delight (generally, pronounced with a long a).

Aha signals triumph or surprise, or perhaps derision.

Ahem is employed to gain attention.

Argh, often drawn out with additional h’s, is all about frustration.

Aw can be dismissive or indicative of disappointment, or, when drawn out, expressive of sympathy or adoration.

Aye denotes agreement.

Bah is dismissive.

Blah communicates boredom or disappointment.

Blech (or bleah or bleh) implies nausea.

Boo is an exclamation to provoke fright.

Boo-hoo is imitative of crying and is derisive.

Boo-ya (with several spelling variants) is a cry of triumph.

Bwah-hah-hah (variously spelled, including mwah-hah-hah) facetiously mimics the stereotypical archvillain’s triumphant laugh.

D’oh is the spelling for the muttering accompanying Homer Simpson’s trademark head-slapping self-abuse.

Duh derides someone who seems dense.

Eek indicates an unpleasant surprise.

Eh, with a question mark, is a request for repetition or confirmation of what was just said; without, it is dismissive.

Er (sometimes erm) plays for time.

Ew denotes disgust, intensified by the addition of one or more e’s and/or w’s.

Feh (and its cousin meh) is an indication of feeling underwhelmed or disappointed.

Gak is an expression of disgust or distaste.

Ha expresses joy or surprise, or perhaps triumph.

Ha-ha (with possible redoubling) communicates laughter or derision.

Hamana-hamana, variously spelled, and duplicated as needed, implies speechless embarrassment.

Hardy-har-har, or har-har repeated as needed, communicates mock amusement.

Hee-hee is a mischievous laugh, while its variants heh and heh-heh (and so on) can have a more derisive connotation.

Hey can express surprise or exultation, or can be used to request repetition or call for attention.

Hist signals the desire for silence.

Hm, extended as needed, suggests curiosity, confusion, consternation, or skepticism.

Hmph (also hrmph or humph) indicates displeasure or indignation.

Ho-ho is expressive of mirth, or (along with its variant oh-ho) can indicate triumph of discovery.

Ho-hum signals indifference or boredom.

Hubba-hubba is the vocal equivalent of a leer.

Huh (or hunh) is a sign of disbelief, confusion, or surprise, or, with a question mark, is a request for repetition.

Hup, from the sound-off a military cadence chant, signals beginning an exerting task.

Hurrah (also hoorah, hooray, and hurray, and even huzzah) is an exclamation of triumph or happiness.

Ick signals disgust.

Lah-de-dah denotes nonchalance or dismissal, or derision about pretension.

Mm-hmm, variously spelled, is an affirmative or corroborating response.

Mmm, extended as needed, conveys palatable or palpable pleasure.

Mwah is suggestive of a kiss, often implying unctuous or exaggerated affection.

Neener-neener, often uttered in a series of three repetitions, is a taunt.

Now (often repeated “Now, now”) is uttered as an admonition.

Oh is among the most versatile of interjections. Use it to indicate comprehension or acknowledgment (or, with a question mark, a request for verification), to preface direct address (“Oh, sir!”), as a sign of approximation or example (“Oh, about three days”), or to express emotion or serves as a response to a pain or pleasure. (Ooh is a variant useful for the last two purposes.)

Oh-oh (or alternatives in which oh is followed by various words) is a warning response to something that will have negative repercussions.

Olé, with an accent mark over the e, is borrowed from Spanish and is a vocal flourish to celebrate a deft or adroit maneuver.

Ooh, with o’s repeated as needed, conveys interest or admiration, or, alternatively, disdain.

Ooh-la-la is a response to an attempt to impress or gently mocks pretension or finery.

Oops (and the jocular diminutive variation oopsie or oopsy and the variant whoops) calls attention to an error or fault.

Ouch (or ow, extended as needed) signals pain or is a response to a harsh word or action.

Oy, part of Yiddish expressions such as oy gevalt (equivalent to “Uh-oh”), is a lament of frustration, concern, or self-pity.

Pff, extended as needed, expresses disappointment, disdain, or annoyance.

Pfft, or phfft, communicates abrupt ending or departure or is a sardonic dismissal akin to pff.

Phew, or pew, communicates disgust, fatigue, or relief. (Phooey, also spelled pfui, is a signal for disgust, too, and can denote dismissal as well. PU and P.U. are also variants.)

Poof is imitative of a sudden disappearance, as if by magic.

Pooh is a contemptuous exclamation.

Pshaw denotes disbelief, disapproval, or irritation or, alternatively, communicates facetious self-consciousness.

Psst calls for quiet.

Rah, perhaps repeated, signals triumph.

Shh (extended as necessary) is an imperative for silence.

Sis boom bah is an outdated encouraging cry, most likely to be used mockingly now.

Tchah communicates annoyance.

Tsk-tsk and its even snootier variant tut-tut are condemnations or scoldings; the related sound tch is the teeth-and-tongue click of disapproval.

Ugh is an exclamation of disgust.

Uh is an expression of skepticism or a delaying tactic.

Uh-huh indicates affirmation or agreement.

Uh-oh signals concern or dismay.

Uh-uh is the sound of negation or refusal.

Um is a placeholder for a pause but also denotes skepticism.

Va-va-voom is an old-fashioned exclamation denoting admiration of physical attractiveness.

Whee is an exclamation of excitement or delight.

Whew is a variant of phew but can also express amazement.

Whoa is a call to halt or an exclamation of surprise or relief.

Whoop-de-doo and its many variants convey mocking reaction to something meant to impress.

Woo and woo-hoo (and variations like yahoo, yee-haw, and yippee) indicate excitement. (Woot, also spelled w00t among an online in-crowd, is a probably ephemeral variant.)

Wow expresses surprise.

Yay is a congratulatory exclamation. (Not to be confused with yeah, a variant of yes.)

Yikes is an expression of fear or concern, often used facetiously.

Yo-ho-ho is the traditional pirates’ refrain.

Yoo-hoo attracts attention.

Yow, or yowza, is an exclamation of surprise or conveys being impressed.

Yuck (also spelled yech or yecch) signals disgust. (Not to be confused with yuk, a laugh.)

Yum, or yummy, is a response to the taste of something delicious and, by extension, the sight of an attractive person.

Zoinks is an expression of surprise or amazement popularized by the cartoon character Shaggy, of Scooby Doo fame.

Zowie, often in combination following wowie, a variant of wow, expresses admiration or astonishment.

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138 Responses to “100 Mostly Small But Expressive Interjections”

  • David Bier

    Thanks for this – what a fun post considering there’s no actual narrative in it!

  • Cecily

    Some of these interjections are quite culturally and age specific, so if people need to be told what they mean, they should probably not be using them.

    For example, to many Brits, va-va-voom is not old-fashioned at all, but instead is firmly linked to the long-running ads that footballer Thierry Henry made for the Renault Clio.

  • Himanshu Chanda

    Whoa ! What a biiiig list. And yes this ones really great. You understand exact meaning of those interjections while reading comic strips 🙂

  • Michael

    Huzzah! Love your work Mark.

    But wouldn’t a rhotic speaker write ‘uh’ for ‘er’? Might this cause some confusion for the non-rhotic speaker who could voice the former as a, sort of, near-grunt? Or do you think most readers get by given the context?

    And yes, I agree with Cecily; writers should check that their audience is familar with the interjection. Most of these would pass muster in Australia, but a few (e.g., ‘hamana-hamana’, ‘mwah’, ‘neener-neener’, ‘zoinks’ and ‘zowie’) would be met with a blank look. But then I’m sure some local expressions would seem equally strange to others. An American friend was resident in Australia for six months before she realized ‘ta’ meant ‘thanks’ and not ‘whatever’.

  • Emma

    I have never heard “hamana-hamana” and would definitely be very confused if I were to hear anyone use it.

    You should have included “sheesh”, the exclamation of flustered annoyance.

    Also, I have never heard “feh”, but am very familiar with “its cousin”, “meh”.

    I don’t understand how “now” is an interjection, though. I always presumed it was a shortened form of sentences such as “Now, listen to what I’m saying,” where the “now” suggests that the action should happen at the present time.

  • Rebecca

    This is a fantastic list, thank you for providing it. I never knew there were so many exclamations to use. It beats using the ‘same old, same old’ exclamations.

  • Rebecca

    Oops! I meant ‘interjections’ not exclamations. I now awake yet!

  • Steve Hall

    “Ah can denote positive emotions like relief or delight (generally, pronounced with a long a).”

    I was always taught that a “long a” is the sound of a as in cake. Do you mean a lengthy a? When I write, I usually spell it “ahh,” to extend the sound.

  • Deborah H

    Cartoonist and writers everywhere are thanking you for this list, including me. In addition to “Ack!”—let’s not forget Bill the Cat’s other favorite exclamation: “Thbbft!”

  • Roberta B.

    “Aye” would fall into the category of “yes” (an actual word) in a foreign language rather than an interjection. I suppose in parts of the US it might be equivalen to “si,” depending on the foreign influences in the area over the years.

    Psst! – discrete call to attention
    Gee, geez, jeez, geewhiz – surprise, befuddlement (a polite way to avoid exclamatory profanity)

  • thebluebird11

    What a great post! I think ESL speakers will appreciate it. At my age, I have pretty much heard most, if not all of them, and of course I use some but not others (maybe I’m too old for the woot-woot thing my 18-year-old daughter sometimes does LOL).
    Along the same lines, perhaps you can do a post on different animal sounds…what I mean is, American dogs say “ruff, ruff” or “bark, bark” (or whatever). Israeli dogs say “Hahv, hahv.” What do other animals from other countries say? Do cows all over the world “moo” or “low”? Cats can mew or meow here…what about elsewhere?
    @Cecily: Please don’t take this unkindly, but I thought your remark about people not using certain expressions was a bit harsh. Live and let live, you know? Groovy list, it’s the cat’s pajamas! (Eh, those are sort of before my time, but you get my drift). We update our wardrobes and our cellphones, why not update our speech?
    @Emma: I grew up with family from Europe (Russia, Poland), and “feh” was the word. I always think “meh” sounds like a sheep!
    @Michael (Australia): Here in the US, “ta” would more likely be a shortened version of “ta-ta,” as in “goodbye.” Thanks for the head-up!

  • Cecily

    thebluebird11: I wasn’t saying that anyone unfamiliar with these expressions must not use them, but was warning that the definitions here are necessarily brief and don’t take account of the very specific ways that some of them are used (and not used) in different countries, age groups etc.

    For example, if I, as a Brit, start using “hamana-hamana” (which I had never come across till today) on the strength of this article, I will probably be met with bafflement by those around me.

  • thebluebird11

    @Cecily: What I meant was, it’s one thing to avoid an expression because of cultural issues (as in, nobody in your country/culture would get it), another entirely to say people shouldn’t use an expression because they are too old, young, unhip, etc. Still, think of this post as a chance to expand your (and your friends’) cultural horizons…You know the US is a big place, and expressions vary from coast to coast and border to border. I remember coming across the word “spendy,” (meaning expensive). That’s a west-coast word, and I live 3000 miles away on the east coast, but I thought, “what a great word!” and I adopted it. my friends now “get it.” There are many books on this subject, and I find they make great mind-expanding reading. Don’t shy away from using a word (or expression) you like just because your friends won’t get it…introduce them to it as you would introduce a new food or work of art 🙂 There’s a great big world out there!

  • Mark Nichol

    Steve:

    Thanks for your note; you are correct. I should have said “an extended a sound, like the doctor asks you to say when looking in your mouth.”

  • Mark Nichol

    Emma:

    I didn’t want to take the time in the original post to go into my criteria for inclusion and exclusion of terms in this list — trust me, there are many more interjections — but I tried to include only terms that have no literal meaning but have acquired one (or more) through conversational context: They are (with a tip of the hat to commenter Deborah H.) basically sound effects. (Though — think about it — trace any word back for enough, and it fits that description.) Now, in retrospect, for the reason you state, does not belong.

    I deliberately omitted sheesh and the like because it and many other words like it are bowdlerizations of oaths invoking God or Jesus, and hence have etymological antecedents.

    Also, my language bias as an American (more specifically, a homegrown Californian) should be obvious, but I admit that some of these terms are obscure; selecting on the basis of longevity and durability was a fine line to walk.

    My favorite interjection, which didn’t make the cut because it derives from a real word, is hella, a superlative that stands on its own and dates from the mid-1980s at the latest but as yet, to my knowledge, does not grace the pages of any printed dictionary.

  • Patrick

    In reply to Emma: “hamana-hamana” is the written version of the vocalization Jackie Gleason used as Ralph Kramden on the long-running TV show “The Honeymooners.” It was used whenever he was caught out by his long-suffering wife, Alice and could not come up with an explanation for some boneheaded thing he’d done.

    I would also like to have seen “yada-yada” from the Seinfeld series. It was used to allow the listener to fill in facts universally known, similar to “blah, blah, blah.”

  • AmaT

    Great list! Thanks for the post.

  • Michael

    If we’re talking cartoon references, then most Australians (for starters) have never heard of Bill the Cat. I’m fortunate to have been exposed to ‘Bloom County’ by an American friend. It opened my eyes to some great American humour. Bloody funny stuff! But ‘Ack!’ won’t mean much to most Aussies.

    For us, the equivalent might be the long-running New Zealand strip ‘Footrot Flats’ and The Dog’s immortal exclamation ‘Ye Gods!’

  • Michael

    Oh, and then there’s ‘struth!’ Little used these days (except by foreigners trying—and failing—to emulate the Australian vernacular), the word is derived from the Middle English exclamation ‘God’s Truth!’

  • ApK

    @Emma
    “I have never heard “hamana-hamana” and would definitely be very confused if I were to hear anyone use it.”

    Then you need an education in the comedic genius of the Great One.

  • thebluebird11

    @Michael: “Ye Gods” is not the equivalent of “Ack.” Bill the cat was nonverbal, unless you count “ack” as verbal, but it was more like a gagging sound he made, sort of randomly, maybe preparing to hack up a hairball, who knows LOL. I can’t find my old Bloom County comic books, but as far as I remember, the only other sound he made (except for maybe an occasional burp?) was something like “thpbffffft.”

  • Michael

    @thebluebird11: You’re quite right. I meant an equivalently well-known comic strip. Should have been clearer.

  • thebluebird11

    @Emma: I remember that sound…it sounded like “HUM-in-uh, HUM-in-uh, HUM-in-uh,” said very fast. Jackie Gleason used to do it on “The Honeymooners” (TV comedy show here back in about 1965 B.I.A.S. [before internet and satellite]), when he was caught doing something and he was fumbling for an alibi, or if he was just kind of at a loss for words…I don’t remember everything that far back, but that is pretty much the impression I have.

  • Michael

    Mark,

    ‘I deliberately omitted sheesh and the like because it and many other words like it are bowdlerizations of oaths invoking God or Jesus, and hence have etymological antecedents.’

    I’m confused; you omitted ‘geez’, etc., because they might be offensive? Are they really? This may be another cultural difference but I can’t imagine more than a tiny minority of Christians taking offence.

    If these words are genuinely and widely felt to be offensive by all means note them as such, but surely they shouldn’t be left out of this forum?

  • ApK

    @Michael: “I’m confused; you omitted ‘geez’, etc., because they might be offensive?”

    You’re confused. 😉 Where did you get the idea that he omitted them because they might be offensive?

    He said he omitted them because they are derived from other words, same reason he omitted “yeah” as he stated at the beginning.

  • Michael

    @ApK: OK, I’m really confused now. Doesn’t ‘bowlderization’ suggest the feeling that these words are somehow offensive?

  • ApK

    The point is they are omitted from this list because they are derived from other words, not because of the REASON they came to be derived from those other words.

  • Michael

    Righto. It was the word ‘bowlderization’ that threw me.

  • Kathryn

    thebluebird11:
    Oooohhh! Thank you. I recognized “hum-in-uh hum-in-uh,” but had no idea where it came from (not allowed to watch television as child). In fact, the origins of several of them would be interesting to know–I understand the “no etymology” point, but they are all found in sources. . .

    Michael–sure, in a general sense “bowdlerization” carries negative connotations, but like ApK I read Mark’s comment, in context, as focussed on the fact that those words have identifiable etymologies. Words like “hah” and “bah” and even “aye” used to mean “yes” may be included in dictionaries, but either without etymological information, or with speculative information.

  • Kathryn

    Oops. Overkill–I was composing while you folks were getting it sorted out! Sorry.

  • thebluebird11

    @Michael: the word is “Bow-dlerization” (not BOWL-derization).
    origin is eponymous, after Thomas Bowdler (1754–1825), English editor of an expurgated edition of Shakespeare.
    sorry…perhaps this website attracts some persnickety people (like me).

  • Michael

    @thebluebird11: Go easy mate! It’s a typo! Geez louise. 🙂

    And I know what it means, hence my confusion: ‘remove material that is considered improper or offensive from (a text or account), esp. with the result that it becomes weaker or less effective.’ (Oxford Dictionary)

  • ApK

    @thebluebird11,
    Geesh! Not only are you right, but gosh darn it if Maeve didn’t post a link to that very term just a little while ago in the previous article comments!
    http://americanenglishdoctor.com/wordpress/?p=1720

    @Kathyn, not that I’m jealous or comptetitive or anything, but did you happen to notice the link to the Honeymooners clip that I posted just before thebluebird11’s response, to illustrate “hummuna hummuna?” 😉

  • Kathryn

    ApK
    Oh, no! Now I’ve stepped all over EVERYONE’s toes!
    Truth is (and I blush to confess it, as a post of mine with TWO links in it is currently awaiting moderation on the bias thread), I frequently don’t follow links, especially YouTube links. I work in a small office, and sudden effusions of noise can be difficult to explain to my partner and our secretary. So, I’ll go look at it now, ‘k? And thank you AS WELL as thebluebird11.

  • Rod

    Great post it might be a good idea If you could post something about the verbs that are onomatopoeias as well, such as:
    snore, yawn, bark,sneeze and so on .

  • Emma

    Mark: I never realized that “sheesh” was derived from “Jesus”, so you’re right. Perhaps another post that addresses these etymologically-derived interjections would be nice, though, so we can become more familiar with those ones as well.

    Michael: I think I see the source of your confusion. Mark said that words like “sheesh” and “jeez” “are bowdlerizations of oaths invoking God or Jesus, and hence have etymological antecedents.” He didn’t state that they were not included because they were bowdlerizations, or that any other words that were omitted were also bowdlerizations. He said that they were not included due to the fact that they were derived from other words, and these particular words happened to be a specific type of derivative: a bowdlerization.

    Personally, I am Christian and I strongly dislike the use of the names of God and Christ as interjections, but I have little-to-no problem with words like “jeez” and “sheesh” because most of the people who use them are unaware of their etymology, since the words have been in use for a long time. However, I dislike the use of “OMG” even when the speaker insists they mean “Oh My Gosh” as most people know it to mean something different and would assume that that is what is intended.

    thebluebird11: If that’s the case, I’m much too young to know the reference. It seems that the word hasn’t persisted enough to remain familiar with my generation. Some words, though, clearly do outlive their origins; if, as others are saying, the word “ack” originates from the comic strip “Bloom County”, that would be an example, as I definitely know the interjection but only know the comic strip by name and probably wouldn’t recognize it if I saw a page. It is unfortunate that people forget about things that previous generations enjoyed, but I like that a word was able to survive from it.

  • Kathryn

    “It is unfortunate that people forget about things that previous generations enjoyed, but I like that a word was able to survive from it.”

    Am I the only one feeling a bit condescended-to? I mean, hey man, it was like groovy in the 60s and 70s when we had our own vibes, hey, wow!. . but, we were also familiar with the lingo of the 40s and 50s, including that of the beatniks. . .and GI Joe. Yes? And we did NOT have the luxury of easy access to a smorgasbord of information about the past: recent, remote, and inbetween. Agreed, it is undoubtedly nice that “Ack” has come down to us from the remote fastnesses of Bloom County; but geewhilikers, there is an incredible richesse of words that we have inherited from that and earlier eras.

    Sigh. Maybe I’m just getting old.

  • Kathryn

    And crotchety.

  • Deborah H

    Permit me to jump back into the fray: I doubt that the word “ack” began with Bill the Cat, a character from the cartoon strip Bloom County. But he certainly made it popular.

    As for the other word “Thbbft!” —I always assumed that was what a “raspberry” looked like spelled out. 🙂 And of course, blowing a raspberry certainly predates Bloom County, too.

    And for those who don’t know, “to blow a raspberry” is an act of derision, or in some cases, a signal of futility or fatigue. Context is everything.

  • Kathryn

    Excellent points, Deborah. . .and my understanding has always been that another term for a raspberry (which was the sound made when one compressed a whoopee cushion. . .which was intended to simulate a sound of biological origin, yes?) was “Bronx cheer.” Personally, I have always spelled the sound “thbpt,” but I suspect there are many variant spellings.

  • thebluebird11

    @Michael: I am so sorry, my down-under friend…I had typed into my post the word “kindly” between some brackets, meaning that I meant my little rebuke kindly, but I guess because of the brackets and HTML issues, the word didn’t show up. Which I didn’t realize til now, because I went to work, and all these emails kept coming to my phone, but I couldn’t read them, altho in the car on the way home I read…
    @kathryn’s posts, which cracked me up. Thanks, I needed that!
    I love this web site, you guys (gals, mates, whatever) are the best!

  • Michael

    @thebluebird11: No worries. I’ll let you off… this time.

    @Kathryn: Crotchety but bloody funny!

  • Melvin

    I better learn some of the others too so I can express it well. 😀

  • Becky the Floridian

    I have to admit, it irks me when people confuse yay and yeah. I’m not sure why, it just does.

  • thebluebird11

    @Becky (who might be a neighbor of mine, and glad not to be living in, say, Boston right now): I think people confuse “yea” and “yeah,” leaving off the H. They do both mean “yes,” but the former isn’t slang; it’s a vote FOR something (as opposed to AGAINST it), and also means “indeed,” as an affirmation. The latter is slang (or at least, that’s what my mother said LOL).

  • Laura

    “Ack” denotes disgust or dismissal? I’ll be darned; I’ve always used it to denote distress, a la the old “Cathy” cartoons.

  • Laura

    …or surprise, now that I think about it a minute more.

  • Bill from LA LA Land

    Mark, you left out an interjection I hear all the time in conversations, mostly when girls are talking; “uknow”. What would be a good definition?

  • Mark

    Also, I have found that people with knowledge of low-level networking protocols like TCP will sometimes use “ACK” in response to something that someone else says to them. My friends and I do this, typically in written communication, but it does sometimes come up in verbal communication. When spoken, we often repeat it twice over, like “ACK ACK.” It’s actually part of the written TCP specification; it is a shortened form of “ACKnowledge.” We also use NACK in the same way, as a form of negative acknowledgement, to say “I understood what you said but my answer is ‘no.'”

    I have found that these are generally understood when talking to people that are in deep in the IT crowd, but this does not mean by any standard that this usage is common. I simply offer it as an insight into a usage that some people might not otherwise encounter, as it is not likely to spread far, wide, or quickly.

  • Michael

    ‘Ack-Ack’ always meant surface-to-air gunfire to this little boy reader of war stories.

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