7 Interjections and Their Origins

Last month, I told you about the eight classes of interjections and provided examples. As promised, here are a few of the interjections found in Zounds! A Browser’s Dictionary of Interjections.

ai-ai-ai (also ai-yi-yi)
“Found in both Spanish and Yiddish, this interjection expresses a number of emotions that range from stopped-dead-in-one’s-tracks stupefaction to anguished regret and dismay.” Page 5

“Used to express annoyance or contempt, this interjection comes from the ancient word ba, a natural expression of surprise in may languages because of its formation: the jaw drops, the mouth opens wide in an elemental verbal gape. The day that gaping went from simple surprise to impatience and displeasure, bah was born. The Scroogian bah! (as in “Bah! Humbug!”) was first recorded in 1600. It’s still mostly associated with Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Together the two words have wedded themselves into a handy adjective.” Page 14

“Though adopted first by the Australian surfers and later by surfers the world over to celebrate a good ride or wave, this cry of delight actually has its origin in early American television. According to Buffalo Bob Smith, host of the classic children’s TV show Howdy Doody, cowabunga! was invented by staff writer Eddie Kean for the character Chief Thunderthud and originally spelled “kawabonga.” The word had a negative connotation, the flip-side companion to “Kawapooga,” which was used in happier circumstances. Somehow the spelling evolved, the meaning morphed, and surfers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Bart Simpson took it joyfully to the beaches.” Page 35

“This word, used to express mild disgust or disappointment, was first heard in the phrase drat ye. A minced oath, it probably derived from the imprecation God rot ye.” Page 39-40

Also known as “the national interjection of Canada. According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the interjection eh is used for “ascertaining the comprehension, continued interest, agreement, etc., of the person or persons addressed.” Bill Casselman, author of Casselman’s Canadian Words, notes that the word comes in two flavors, the final interrogative eh? with a rising intonation, and the narrative eh with a sustained flat intonation.” Page 42

for Pete’s sake
“Who was Pete? Probably St. Peter. This mild exclamation of botheration dates back at least to the late nineteenth century. The related interjection for Heaven’s sake comes to us from the same period, although for pity’s sake is much, much older. Michael Drayton put it into one of his sonnets back in 1593: “Rebate thy spleen, if but for pity’s sake.””
Page 51

gosh all hemlock
“Simply a euphemistic way of saying God Almighty, this expression has been around since the 1880s. Gosh as a substitute for God has been with us since the 1700s. One finds the word offered alone as an exclamation of wonder, in a number of other interjections, including gosh-a-mighty, gosh-durn-it, and the patriotic gosh all Potomac.” Page 66

Were you familiar with all of these interjections? If so, did you know their origins? Were any of them unfamiliar? Let me know in the comments and check back in November for more interjections and their origins.