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.

Recommended for you: « »



137 Responses to “100 Mostly Small But Expressive Interjections”

  • Teen Victum

    Excellent list. Well done; however…

    Two critical items are missing. They are similar in spelling and root word, but have different pronunciations and often completely different meanings:

    wut: spoken in a (querulous) dull, moronic undertone, it typically indicates a request for repetition or identifies the other person’s statement(s) as being of mildly questionable validity.

    wat (pronounced with a long “a”): also querulous, but spoken in a sharper and higher voice than “wut.” It is used for complete disbelief or speechlessness. Physically, it is accompanied by a squinting of the eyes.

    Both are used in texting and 1337-speak.

  • alex

    Mark

    Isn’t Ooh-la-la borrowed from French, which would explain its posh-ness
    or pretention, as you put it.

  • Kassia Verne

    Mark, Great article, Its good to finally find a list such as this online.
    I am PhD student, currently in the process of building a dictionary program to analyse large corpora. With your permission, may I use this list above, Have you written about this topic in a more formal setting such a book chapter or journal paper? As I’d like to make reference to this work in my thesis? Could you also recommend anyone else who has generated a similar list such as this? – Thanks Kassia

  • Cynthia

    Exclamation and Interjection are one and same thing.

  • mathew

    i want to know the meanings of the words like
    sob….
    lol…..
    blush..

  • Samuel Damian

    I must confessed that i have been richly enlightened more on many exclamations i never knew earlier.now my vocabulary library has been reinforced.cheers for that!

  • Bob

    Cool. We all need to be groomed from the basics when we are young in order to master thee little basic but the most important aspects of English which define who we are and how we approach our daily communication as it can be perceived with ought any good effect.

  • Merle Tenney

    A little clarification on the word “woot”. In the gaming world, WOOT is short for “we own other team” as in “we beat you”, “in your face”, etc. The leetspeak version is usually “w00t”, but other variants are possible.

  • JK Brennan

    I have a friend that keeps telling me that spelling doesn’t matter in our online chats, yet he is just as pedantic and we both fight our instincts to correct and apologize. I was struggling, I lost. That was supposed to be “adopted” 😀

  • JK Brennan

    This list is excellent, the comments absolutely wonderful. I find it interesting that a post about words that are not at all words, on a website about words, can evoke such huge response. 🙂 Oh, and Ack, in my world as a Sweed, means something like “Ah” in a somewhat sorroful and fatalistic voice. Hard to explain. It is used in some beautiful old Swedish folk songs. My mind just refuses to accept that it might be a negative expression. About texting and teenage speak; I simply can’t deal with those that skip the apostrophy in “I’m” or “It’s”. Just a pet peeve maybe but that does give them a different meaning altogether. In texting it’s understandable but in emails and on websites it looks so sloppy. I have never been a fan of sms and even if I have adapted the lol and ttyl etc, I’ve more and more started to use the *snickering, *scratching my head* or *grinning wickedly* in emails etc. I do prefer to express myself without worrying about others understanding me when it’s just as easy and almost as fast to make myself perfectly clear. I get a feeling that now that we have unlimited storage space, online and on our own harddrives, we create boundaries for ourselves that are unnecessary. Twitter of course is one example. Another one is bad cellphone operators putting a ridiculously low limit on the message size when there is no technical reason whatsoever to do so. Uh, I’m ranting. sorry. 🙂

  • kileytoo

    I would add “Yep” to the list, I use it quite often as starting a sentence with “Yes” somehow seems a bit too much… I think it was originally “Yup.” Funny, it was not in the list but I found it twice in the comments above…

  • Mark Nichol

    Stephen:

    I hear you — with a rising inflection. That interjection is not unknown to me.

  • Stephen Thorn

    Mark, it was an excellent list and a fun post. But I might suggest an addition for “uh-huh” as in “uh…huh” (wherein the interjection is broken into two distinct sounds with a pause between them). This would be a derisive dismissal of something, as in “You say that your dog can do algebra? Uh…huh. Right.”

  • makram

    whats so nice about this list is the fabulous comments. thanks guys

  • Round One

    There are many others, I assure you. And there are things that don’t normally come to mind that fit the category as well. One time in grad school we decided to develop a list of expressions that could mean the sex act; we quit when the list eclipsed 150 words and we were still mining.

  • GS

    This list made my day 🙂

  • Kathryn

    ApK–well, when I read “A Modest Proposal” in High School English umpteen many years ago, a large part of the (AP) class was initially highly indignant over his barbaric suggestion. Didn’t get the satire, y’see. I have always suspected that the inclusion of that piece in “A Reader for Writers” is why that highly innocuous work made it onto the hit list of “Anti-American, Anti-Christian, Anti-Semitic and just plain filthy” books that ultimately led to the US Supreme Court’s decision in “Island Trees Sch. Dist. v. Pico” (school library books have tenure–you don’t have to buy them in the first place, but once they are on the shelves you can’t remove them because of objections to their content.) I traced down a copy of the book (which was the text for my HS English class) and am reading through it. . .slowly. . .and I sure haven’t come across anything else that would qualify!

  • Kathryn

    thebluebird11–if your 40 year old neighbor is only “more than a decade” younger than you, I suspect you and I would qualify in most people’s minds as conteporaries. And to your last point? Amen!

    If DWT frowns on sharing e-mail addresses, then no doubt this post will get deleted, but I agree that maybe we should let this thread expire in a natural way. So. I am at Verizon.net. My last name is McCary. There is a period between my first and last names, which are then followed by the a-in-a-circle symbol and the domain name.

    Because, really, I could expatiate on the subject of texting-while-mediating, but I think it would be better to stop. Here.

  • thebluebird11

    @Kathryn: Boy, are we off topic! Almost makes me want to say, let’s get out of DWT’s hair and let’s continue this in regular email!
    There is probably a generational thing, but yes, there are other issues. My ex-husband used to tell my daughter that the reason she and I didn’t get along was that we were “too alike.” I beg to differ. In fact, we are NOT alike (OK, yes, we are both female, have 2 eyes, a nose etc). She is more like my mother was, in terms of some aspects of her personality, and I feel trapped between two annoying people.
    As much as I appreciate the advantages of each form of communication, I understand the drawbacks and limitations too. I also understand that many people my age and older (and maybe younger too, as I think you are) don’t see eye to eye with the preteens/teens/20-somethings who can spend hours at a family dinner or a party, and be texting the whole time, yes, even to people at the same function! I consider it rude, but I guess they consider it routine, no “special reason” required. My neighbor, who, at 40, is more than a decade younger than I am, goes ballistic about people texting and driving, and is on the warpath to make it illegal. Sigh. I know she’s right. I also know that no matter what laws you pass, there are people who will break them, get away with it, and even take others’ lives as they do it…

  • Kathryn

    thebluebird11: Backatya “nice pun.”
    Yup. “Careful” was one of its first suggestions. . .which is why spell check will never replace proofreading. Well, one of the reasons why.

    And, yes, the fact that the driver was texting–or at least checking text messages–was also a concern, although not really a concern for the school attorney, thank the lord. The loud music explanation is plausible, but I have this really bad feeling that those 40 years younger than I would just look puzzled and blank if I suggested to them that there had to be some special REASON to text in that situation. I have lived all my adult life in a child-free environment, but what I hear from my clients leads me to suspect that it really is a different world out there, beyond the ordinary generation-gap thing.

  • thebluebird11

    @Kathryn: Oh wow…that’s a whole pile of issues! Texting while driving, texting to a person presumably sitting no more than about 2 feet away, and so on. Maybe the music in the car was REALLY, REALLY LOUD and the driver didn’t hear the passenger telling him to go back!
    …and I suspect that your program wants to steer you away from “carful” and into “careful.”

  • Kathryn

    An administrator for a client school district was once telling me the facts leading up to a legal question about the release of student information. The facts featured a carful of students driving by an ice cream place and seeing a boy from a different district with whom one of them had a feud. When the administrator asked me her question I didn’t hear it because I was still sputtering over her explanation that the passenger who recognized him texted the driver to go back (fight ensued). I mean. . .they were in the same CAR!

    Harumph. Why does this program refuse to recognize the word carful?

  • thebluebird11

    @ApK: Sure, you can call me bird…that’s been my dad’s nickname for me since I was just a chick LOL
    In person, if she asked me that (which would probably never happen, since if she were here, she wouldn’t need me to walk her dog, unless perhaps she had foot surgery, like I did, and then she had to walk MY dog!) I would say “Yeah, sure, no problem.” Which is what I said the day we were walking our dogs together and she told me that her son had moved out, and now there was nobody to walk the dog during the day, meaning, the dog would now be home for at least 10 hours with no walk. So I offered to walk her dog mid-day, since I work from home and have to break to walk my own dog anyway. And that probably answers Cecily’s post as well. My neighbor has a “real job.” And, for the record, our doorways are maybe 20 feet apart, but we text each other even when we’re home until I get exasperated and pick up the phone!

  • ApK

    bird (may I call you bird?),

    You say ‘for the sake of neighborliness, I am not going to put anything else into my texted reply’

    But does that imply that if you were asked in person, you would let your other feelings be known through inflection or expression or whatever? That’s not neighborly…that’s passive aggressive….;-)

    If your neighbor is asking you a favor and trusting you with her dog, doesn’t that mean they know you fairly well and probably already have a sense of how you feel about it?

    In any case, your text reply doesn’t HAVE to be “yes.” It could be “YES!” or “Anything for you!” or “again? sure.”

    Or even “No.”
    http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts-apparel/unisex/frustrations/c2dd/

    And Cecily, don’t get me started. My wife is texting constantly with the woman across the street. They could yell out the window faster. But in bluebird’s case, I’d presume the neighbor wasn’t home, hence the need for someone else to walk the dog.

  • Cecily

    thebluebird11: If your neighbour sends you texts, rather than just knocking on your door, maybe you already have issues? 😉

  • thebluebird11

    OK, so here we are, 24 hours later, still posting on this topic (ok, OFF the topic).
    @ApK: Just as an example, let’s say my neighbor texts me, “Can you please walk my dog at 1 PM today? Thx.” So, let’s say my reply is “Yes.” What was the whole gestalt surrounding that “yes”? Do I like my neighbor or do I just tolerate her? Am I friends with her, and quite willing to do her the favor, perhaps because I know she does (or would do) the same for me? Or do I feel that I had better do her the favor just to keep good relations between us? Maybe I do it because although I don’t care much for her, I feel bad for her dog. Maybe I like her but am exasperated that she is asking me to do it every day….you get my drift? Now, for the sake of neighborliness, I am not going to put anything else into my texted reply. Just “yes.” She has NO idea what went thru my head, and no idea which, if any, of those thoughts was behind my reply. She might think that I was abrupt or rude because I didn’t flesh out my reply more (“Yes, gladly, any time!” “Why, sure! No problem, I’d be happy to help you out!”). She might wonder if I’m OK with helping her out, or if I’m annoyed. But that might be exactly the reason that all I said was “yes” and nothing more. And just for the record, I like my neighbor and am happy to help her out with this!
    @Kathryn: Nice pun there 😉

  • ApK

    Bluebird, it is the writer’s choice to answer with a simple “yes” rather than with more words. I’m not saying it’s a poor choice, we use these tools to save time, after all, but it’s not inherent to the medium.

    Kathyrn, When I mentioned Swift, I was thinking of “A Modest Proposal.” The man could do snark.

    ApK

  • Kathryn

    Oh, nicely played, y’all! A perfect illustration of the problems with tone in electronic communication. ApK, I believe it is different from other forms of writing largely because we think of e-mail (and SMS and texting, and message forums) as conversation. The audience (yup, there comes King Charles’s Head!) has different expectations about the nature of the experience.

    And, for that matter, Swift was a brilliant example because I’ll bet there were (and are) a lot of people who totally missed his point because of not sharing his assumptions. Humor is particullarly prone to being misunderstood.

  • thebluebird11

    @Michael: LOL…zzzzz….

  • Michael

    @thebluebird: [Plays gentle, soothing music.] 🙂

Leave a comment: