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Spelling Interjections and Exclamations

May 29, 2014 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified May 30, 2014

No long article on how-tos today, just a spelling list. And you thought you were done with these when you left middle school.

The words on this list are exclamations or interjections, sounds that characters make in reaction to events or dialogue or revelations. They are usually used at the beginning of a line of dialogue. They could also be used for character thoughts. Some are standard words, others are sounds used as words. (Some words have additional meanings and uses beyond those noted here.)

Keep this list handy for those odd sound words and interjections that everybody uses but no one can quite decide how to spell. Yes, you can create your own interjections or modify common ones, but be consistent within a story and across a series of stories. Add them, especially those with unusual spellings, to your style sheets.

There are options—you can extend some of these words, dramatizing them, by repeating letters, or you can draw out the sound by using hyphens. But there’s no need to go overboard by adding more than two or three repeating letters.

If I forgot any, leave a note in the comments and I’ll add them in. I purposely left out clearly recognizable words that had standard spellings. If anyone knows battle cries for military branches other than those in the U.S., let me know.

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aah—drawn out sound of pleasure, relief, or relaxation; the plural is often paired with ooh for an exclamation of wonder or surprise (oohs and aahs)

ah—placeholder signifying hesitation, confusion, ignorance, or even guilt, often indicating that the speaker is thinking frantically; variations are eruh, and um; also an interjection signifying understanding (Ah, I get it)

aha—exclamation of discovery or realization

ahh—exclamation of surprise or fright; also a variant of aah used as a sound of pleasure, relief, or relaxation

argh—exclamation of frustration, comparable to rats or drat; sometimes used for a pirate’s exclamation

arrr—pirate’s sound of agreement; pirate’s exclamation

aw—mild exclamation of protest, disappointment, or entreaty (Aw, I didn’t mean it.)

aww—exclamation over the cuteness of something

bah—old-fashioned exclamation of dismissal or contempt; compare to the contemporary word so  (Bah, who cares? Bah! Humbug!)

beh—variation of bah

blah—interjection used as filler (typically written three times) to show that either someone droned on about a topic or what had been said was predictable and/or commonplace and all parties now listening understand what was said without it being necessary to repeat what was said (And then she moaned about her husband. You know, blah blah blah.)

blech—mild to medium exclamation of disgust

blergh—an interjection of any combination of disgust, boredom, dissatisfaction, and other negative emotions; also blurgh and blargh; probably from a combination of bleh and argh and/or ugh.

bwahaha—less common variant of mwahaha; often bwah-ha-ha

criminy—mild swear word, somewhat old-fashioned; euphemism for Christ

duh—exclamation of exasperation or disdain over the explanation of something obvious

eh—mild exclamation of unconcern or indifference (Eh, who cares.); solicitation to repeat something (Eh, what was that?); question tag (You heard about it, eh?)

er—placeholder signifying hesitation, confusion, ignorance, or even guilt, often indicating that the speaker is thinking frantically; may be followed by an ellipsis (Er . . . I’m not sure.); variations are ah, um, and uh 

erm—variation of er (I’ve never seen this in a published book that I can recall and never heard a real person say it, but it shows up in a lot of manuscripts I see)

ew—exclamation of disgust, typically over something nasty; can be made more dramatic by repeating letters (Ewww, that’s foul. Eeew, that stinks.)

geez—exclamation of exasperation; a mild oath to be used in place of Jesus; also sheesh

hmm—placeholder interjection signifying that the speaker is thinking or considering a response to what has been said

hooah—U.S. Army sound of agreement or affirmation; battle cry; [pronounced hua, accent on hoo]

hooyah—U.S. Navy sound of agreement or affirmation; battle cry

huh—interjection used to signify a dawning revelation or admittance of ignorance over a piece of information (Huh, is that so.); also used as a question tag to solicit agreement (I guess this means we’re leaving now, huh?)

humph—mild exclamation of disagreement or reluctant agreement; also exclamation of displeasure; variations include hmph, hrmph, harumph, harumpf, harrumph; old-fashioned and often put in the mouths of elderly men and crotchety women

hrmph, hmph, harumph, harumpf, harrumph—variations of humph

ick—exclamation of disgust; also yuck

meh—old-fashioned mild interjection of dismissal or indifference, much like beh

mm-hmm—murmur of agreement that may also indicate inattention; much like uh-huh

mmm—murmur of pleasure

mwahaha—mock-sinister laugh, often used for a villain; also mwah-ha-ha; variant is bwahaha

nah—informal no; opposite of yeah; [pronounced two ways: like the n-a in nap or the n-o in not rather than as nay]

nuh-uh—childish argumentative no; opposite of yuh-huh; [stress on uh

oh—word signifying comprehension or surprise (often overused in dialogue); can be drawn out by repeating letters (Ohhh, it’s so beautiful.);  [pronounced like the letter o]

oof—like oomph, often comic or exaggerated sound of breath being knocked from someone from a blow to the belly; [a short sound, usually not changed by adding letters]

ooh—exclamation of wonder or surprise; often paired with aah (oohs and aahs); [rhymes with Sue and dew]

oomph—sound of exhalation of breath, often after a collision (may be comic)

oorah—U.S. Marine sound of agreement or affirmation; battle cry

ow—exclamation of pain

pfft—old-fashioned sound of dismissal or unconcern (not common in contemporary fiction); also phfft

phew—exclamation of relief, often used humorously in contemporary fiction

phooey—mild interjection used to show disagreement or disbelief; also a mild curse word akin to darn or drat, but more genteel

pshaw—old-fashioned exclamation of contempt or disagreement (not common in contemporary fiction except in historicals and as deliberate reference to its use in the past); [the p is pronounced]

psst—(usually) quiet interjection used to gain the attention of someone else

sheesh—exclamation of exasperation; a mild oath used in place of Jesus; also geez

shh or shhh—command to keep quiet, often accompanied by finger to lips

shssh—variation of shhh

shush—command to keep quiet, a combination of shh and hush; more a true word than a sound

ta-da—exclamation to express success or to point attention at something

ugh—exclamation of mild disgust

uh—placeholder signifying hesitation, confusion, ignorance, or even guilt, often indicating that the speaker is thinking frantically; may be followed by an ellipsis (Uh, I think it’s that one. Uh . . . I’m not sure that what you’re saying is true.); variations are ah, er, and um

uh, uh, uh—command, often to young children, to stop doing something (Uh, uh, uh, don’t touch that.)

uh huh—interjection signifying understanding and sometimes, but not always, agreement (use it to show someone is saying they understand what is being said even though they might not agree with what is said); informal yes; also uh-huh

uh oh—exclamation of dismay or anticipation of something bad happening; used often by young children; also uh-oh

uh uh—informal no; also uh-uh and unh-unh

um—placeholder signifying hesitation, confusion, ignorance, or even guilt, often indicating that the speaker is thinking frantically; variations are ah, er, and uh; often repeated as um, um, um (Um, um, um, I’m thinking) and stretched out as ummm

unh-unh—informal no; variant of uh uh and uh-uh

whoa—exclamation of surprise or shock (not woah)

yay—exclamation of triumph or victory (Yay, we won!)

yea—yes;  used in the context of a spoken vote; rhymes with and is often paired with nay

yeah—contemporary informal yes; opposite of nah (Yeah, I get it.); [does not rhyme with  nay, and I freely admit I don't know how to explain how this one sounds---how about a link to Merriam-Webster, which has a decent recording of the word?]

yech—variation of yuck, an exclamation of disgust

yeow—exclamation of pain, shock, or surprise; also yow

yikes—exclamation of (negative) surprise or shock; comic

yow—variation of yeow, an exclamation of pain, shock, or surprise

yowza—exclamation of pleasure or pleased surprise or a pleasant shock

yuck—exclamation of disgust; also ick

yuh-huh—argumentative or insistent childish yes; [accent on huh]; opposite of nuh-uh

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Tags: ,     Posted in: Grammar & Punctuation, How to

21 Responses to “Spelling Interjections and Exclamations”

  1. Claudia says:

    Geez, I love this list! Just what I needed. Yeehaw!

  2. ‘erm—variation of er (I’ve never seen this in a published book that I can recall and never heard a real person say it, but it shows up in a lot of manuscripts I see)’
    I have heard this a lot from Scottish and Irish speakers. It’s quite common , I believe.

  3. Ali Turnbull says:

    I’ve noticed there are three ways to say “cool’.

    Short – ‘kul’ = thank you
    Medium – ‘coool’ – that’s clever, why didn’t I think of that?’
    Long – ‘cooo-earl’ that is really kind of you, mum, and I love you forever! Mwah!

  4. Mary says:

    Pirates say arrrrr! The emphasis is on the “r” sound.

    Also I understood meh to have come from Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons). It’s interesting that it is seen as an old fashioned word. Another Simpsonism is d’oh.

    Missing is blergh! for the sound one makes when frustrated mixed with surprised and Phfft for the sound one makes to show dismissal or disdain.

    • Mary, pirates do say arrr—I don’t know how I had aaar instead. Thanks for the heads-up.

      The Simpsons popularized meh, but it’s been around longer. And I did consider adding d’oh, but that one seems limited to the Simpsons and to references to them. That is, it’s not typically a common interjection used by others. Though it certainly could be.

      I’ll add blergh and its alternate spellings. And I’ll add the alternate spelling of pfft.

      Thanks for the suggestions.

  5. TP Hogan says:

    I quickly scrolled through the list surprised it was so long. I read it thinking I’ll never know half of these. Nope, not true. I know most of them. Goes to show how much of them you use in every day speech that doesn’t register when you’re speaking.
    Thanks for the list though, it’s a great resource. (It must have taken you a while to compile – wow!)

  6. Polly says:

    Hmm, what would you say about “c’mon?” Is it an interjection? An exclamation? I am undecided, but thought I’d bring it up for discussion.

  7. I am thinking that the expression is used an expression of disbelief, (perhaps sarcastically or challengingly) or disagreement etc. and not to be taken literally. Therefore it most likely would be an interjection, a response in conversation/ dialogue. What do others think?

  8. How do you correctly spell that clicking sound you make with the tip of your tongue against the front of your palate to express disapproval (or sometimes thinking, or “no,” if you’re Italian)? It’s usually spelled “tut-tut” but then people reading aloud pronounce it Tut Tut instead of “t-t-t,” which is closer to its real sound.

    • Tracy, I’m stumped on this one. Tch, tch, tch? If anyone’s got a suggestion, let us know.

      This may be one time you want to explain the sound rather than trying to duplicate it. If it’s important enough for the reader to understand, you don’t want them hearing the wrong sound. But if they have to try to figure it out, you’ve lost them. It’s not worth destroying the fictional bubble just to try to write a sound correctly. So maybe something like . . .

      Bart made that clicky sound with his tongue pushed up against the roof of his mouth, the same sound his Italian grandmother made. I liked when she used it against him. Hated it when he turned it on me.

      Tut-tut definitely doesn’t work.

      I’d love to hear what others have tried.

    • Joyce says:

      In the novel Indian in the Cupboard, Lynn Reid Banks had the lady in the cafeteria tut, tut, tutting.

      http://joycelansky.blogspot.com/

  9. Was checking your blogs for verification (back me up info) on something completely! different and saw this….what great fun!

    I grew up using “jeez”, might be a Midwest thing.

    I work almost exclusively for Oz authors, so can attest to the use of “erm” – one author told me it was a ‘real’ noise, when someone is stuck between “er” and “um”.

    Thanks for the list – for the blog – for all the effort your site reveals. Will return to peruse more when latest project is complete.

    • Maria, I guess I need to listen harder for “erm.” I really don’t think I’ve ever heard it spoken.

      I’ll add jeez. I’ve got geez, but the alternate spelling is good. Thanks for the reminder.

      I’m glad you like the blog—come back any time.

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