100 Mostly Small But Expressive Interjections

By Mark Nichol

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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137 Responses to “100 Mostly Small But Expressive Interjections”

  • Varina

    An interjection missed: Oi. I believe that it came over to the US via England or Australia, but I have no proof. Mostly I’ve heard it used in the context of an attention-getting sound, as Americans would use Hey! or Hey, you!
    Another one I missed is Ay yi yi! Often accompanied by the shaking of one or both hands (and maybe a head shake, too), it’s an intensification of Ay, as in Ay, what a mess!
    And ApK, Kathryn, and thebluebird11 – kudos, hugs, and a HUGE grin to you – you kept me entertained all night!

  • Roseline

    So how do I use Duh!I never thot its an exsisting interjection!as well as vava vomvom

  • Lenny Schafer

    Blah, blah, blah, mentioned earlier by someone denotes boredom with speech, while single blah denotes general boredom as indicated (or perhaps as a contraction of bland). Blah, blah, blah may be a spoken cognizant taken from Spanish: habla, habla, habla means talk, talk, talk. (The h is silent in Spanish).

  • Auyan

    You forgot “like.” Overused whenever someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about forgets what they’re trying to say.

  • Auyan

    “Boo” is used less often to intentionally scare someone and more often to alert them to the fact that you’re there, in a less-than-polite fashion.

  • Tammy

    whoopee/whoopie (slang, informal) – an exclamation of joy, excitement; a loud, excited shout of happiness etc. Used to express jubilance , exultation, merry abandon. Shows that you are very happy and excited. Noisy and boisterous revelry.

  • Bekah

    @JM Grieves
    I don’t know if the “eh” you are referring to is similar to what my family from Maine say (near the St. Stephen part of Canada): They say “eh” but also (let me try to spell it out: “eh-yut or ah-yut/aye yut”? usually in an affirmative response to somebody else.

    Mainers have a lot of interjections that I don’t hear down here in New Haven, ct: like “yessuh” pronounced differently than the southern version “lately heard in movies that 1. either are actually films about slaves on a plantation, or African American/Black person servant/butler/maid in confirmation or 2. ignorant mocking of what a servant or slave might say to a white “Yessuh master.” Essentially Yes Sir… In Maine it is very different, slowed down I guess? IDK I tried to add to the list, and my explanation was in NO WAY intended to offend. I was trying to find a way to express it and unfortunately being PC online is hard to tell sometimes. Apologies to any and all if it didn’t come off the way I intended.

  • JM Grieves

    Maybe this was already discussed and I missed it, but there is an alternate use of “Eh”–in Canada (or parts close to Canada, such as North Dakota). In Minnesota we finish sentences with “then,” Scots do so with “y’ken,” and Canadians use “eh.” No further information sought in that usage–it’s rhetorical.

  • Elliot Mabeuse

    “Feh” is NOT equivalent to “meh”. Both are from Yiddish, where “meh” is more commonly encountered as “mneh” or, better, “myeh”, with an indifferent shrug. But “feh” is an exclamation of disgust and distaste for something dirty, soiled, or sordid. Feh is what you say when you throw out some obviously spoiled food, or empty ashtrays, or hear about someone posting pictures of their genitals to facebook. Hardly the same as the bored indifference of “meh”.

  • Nerdsworth

    I’m bookmarking this page. Lots of informative and intriguing comments, too. And by lots, I mean massive, tiring walls of text. Not even sure if anyone will ever notice my two cents here.

    Duser:
    “People, keep your comments down to a sentence or two. Seriously.”

    Eh, some people just have a lot to say. Its fine by me as long as their comments are arranged neatly in paragraphs, and straightforward (not unnecessarily long, all bullshit cut).

    thebluebird11:
    “….American dogs say “ruff, ruff” or “bark, bark” (or whatever). Israeli dogs say “Hahv, hahv.””

    I never knew about the Israeli dogs. Why “hahv, hahv”? It doesn’t sound like a bark. Here in Philippines, dogs say “aw, aw”. Also, Filipino frogs say “kokak, kokak”.

  • joie

    And then there’s “meh.” From The Urban Dictionary: “Indifference; to be used when one simply does not care.

    A: What do you want for dinner?
    B: Meh.

    I’ve also heard it described as a VERBAL shrug of the shoulders.

    A. How was the movie?
    B. Meh.

  • Ms.Haha

    I’m sorry but whenever I hear ‘hamana hamana” all I can think of is spongebob. And if it wasn’t for that I honestly don’t believe I would have ever heard that interjection — ever. xD

  • RapMan

    All one-word expletives can be included as expressive interjections. I assume that, unlike the Urban Dictionary website, you’re keeping it clean here. Oh, what the heck. One common expletive is s**t. It’s a substitute for ack, ugh, oy and the like. One online dictionary defines its use as an interjection as: “to express disgust, disappointment, frustration, contempt, or the like.”

  • Herb Powell

    “Yay” is a non-standard spelling of “yea,” and thus an affirmative like “yes” or “yeah.” It’s functionally equivalent to the last two with an exclamation mark, except that many people misspell “yea” as “yeah,” which is tenable except when used ironically (when it looks bizarre.)

  • Duser

    People, keep your comments down to a sentence or two. Seriously.

  • Uyen

    Hello all, I have no idea whether these have been said already but I just wanted to share the interjections that I use. I don’t know whether there is any one under 18 here so here’s my list from the perspective of the younger generation.

    Whoa- said in awe
    pwar- said in amazement. (“You actually did that? Pwar” Can be emphasized with capitals “PWAR!”)
    whoaa? or wha?- what?
    say wha?- What did you say?
    Yep or yerp- meaning yes
    Ergh or Erg
    Eek- sound of surprise- (eg when I fall off a chair)
    Woop instead of woot
    Pah instead of Feh or Bah
    Hmf instead of Hmph
    Pfft or Pshh
    AHH- frustration (caps are for emphasis)
    heheh instead of hee-hee
    a laugh is hahah, a more cheeky laugh is heheh or tehehe
    lol- but not actually laughing
    LOL- actually laughing out loud
    to emphasis the humor, you could text LOLOLOL etc
    Omgosh
    Um- said when thinking
    gee gee-
    (eg. “Red shirts are the coolest thing ever” Sam says ” I have a red shirt..” ” Hahah gee gee”) It’s like touche but not.. Sorry guys, I don’t really know how to explain it

    Anyway. I think people were talking about vocab in texting in the comments above. Putting emotions into your text is essential. And the full stops matter as well. Full stops sends a blunt tone.
    If I got sent a text and I replied as “Fine.” or “Kay” means that I’m very mad at that person. Kay means okay but I think it indicates that the person doesn’t even deserve the effort of putting in that o. I don’t know but I think that’s what it means. I just know that it mean your mad.

    It depends whether I’m talking to my boss or friends.

    Putting in interjections in a text means that it’s playful. Adding emotions such as 🙂 ^^ :3 :p and the 😉 wink. The wink is seductive. It can also be playful. It depends what your talking about and I don’t want to offend by giving an example. The emotions already on the phone are weird. Like what’s with the nose? 🙂

    I text my aunty who’s 30 and she texts very very different. I tell her she texts like an old person. Then she hits me.

    For those who are curious, a text to one of my friends would refer to something along the lines of this:
    ” Oh what your actually working!!!!???? D:”
    “Ohhhhhhhh i didn’t think of that place:p oh well I’ll leave you to study then:)”

  • Helen

    Well, hello. I don’t know if this has been said already because I got too impatient to read every post, but I thought that ‘hamana-hamana’ came from the Flintstones, not Bill and Cat or whatever… then again, I’m not from the Flintstones’ generation, I’m pretty sure that that was my oldest sister (I’m sixteen, she’s twenty-two), so I’m probably wrong.
    I feel like I should throw in some interjections, but I’m not really in the mood… I’m normally much more fun, I swear!

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