VUM.

We were playing Scrabble with our eight-year-old grandson when he happened on the word vum in the Scrabble Dictionary (which we encourage him to use as he plays because it’s good for his vocabulary). It said “interj.—used to express surprise,” and we all thought this was hilarious and went around saying “Vum!” for a while. Of course I then had to research it, and found a good AHD entry:

interj. New England
Used to express surprise.
[Alteration of vow.]
Regional Note: New Englanders sometimes express surprise by saying, “Well, I vum!” This odd-sounding word is in fact an alteration of the verb vow that goes back to the days of the American Revolution. It is also heard simply as “Vum!” or as a sort of past participle: “I’ll be vummed!” A Southern equivalent is swan or swanny, also meaning “swear”: “Now, I swanny!” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word swanny derives from the dialect of the north of England: I s’ wan ye, “I shall warrant ye.”

Now, they say “express,” present tense, but I live in New England and I find it hard to believe it’s been used in living memory. Of course, my incredulity means nothing. Anybody know whether this ludicrous lexeme is still in use?

Comments

  1. Not a New Englander, so I can’t speak to current usage. But I think it appears in Holmes’ Wonderful One-Hoss Shay, and in a way that suggests it was archaic even then.

  2. Maybe when they wrote “Used to express surprise” they meant that people used to say it.
    Just kidding. By the way, a little googling reveals that the word occurs in Chapter 3 of Moby Dick.

  3. I’m a southerner, so I can’t speak to the vum issue, but my grandmother, who will be 86 in a few months, has been known to say things like “I swan to goodness!” on occasion. However, her more usual “expression of surprise” is “I declare!” or some variation thereof.

  4. I am a New Englander. I’ve never heard of “vum”.

  5. As a child I spent many summers on the beaches of Maine, and was thus exposed to a good deal of New England English (Indeed, an American dialectologist I met as an adult told me that I have a hint of a New England phonology in my vowel system). The word “vum” is not one I have ever used myself, but I am certain I have heard it used: it definitely rings a bell.

  6. I like Vum! too; it has a pleasing sound. To borrow a phrase from an earlier commenter, “Astonishingly fantastic several thanks” for bringing it to my attention.

  7. Dan Milton says:

    Oliver Wendell Holmes “The One-Hoss Shay”:
    But the Deacon swore (as deacons do,
    With an “I dew vum,” or an “I tell yeou”)

  8. It does indeed appear in Oliver Wendall Holmes One Horse Shay:
    But the Deacon swore, (as Deacon’s do,
    With an “I dew vum,” or an “I tell yeou,”
    Never heard it myself while in New England, or anyplace else, for that matter.

  9. But the Deacon swore, (as Deacon’s do,
    With an “I dew vum,” or an “I tell yeou”)

    By George, that rings a bell! I loved “The One-Hoss Shay” when I was a kid, and I remember that line; I can’t imagine what I thought “vum” meant, but I’m sure it amused me.
    I’m a southerner, so I can’t speak to the vum issue, but my grandmother, who will be 86 in a few months, has been known to say things like “I swan to goodness!” on occasion.
    Yes, I’m not sure I’ve actually heard anyone say “I swan,” but somehow it doesn’t feel quite as antique: I can imagine someone’s grandmother saying it.
    The word “vum” is not one I have ever used myself, but I am certain I have heard it used: it definitely rings a bell.
    So perhaps it’s not as dead and buried as I thought.

  10. Never heard this in my 60 years in New England, both upcountry and city.

  11. I’ve never heard of it (though my great grand mother did say “I swanny” often enough) – and I’ve been collecting archaic words and expressions for over 20 years now.
    But I’m going to use it from now on! Vum!

  12. J.W. Brewer says:

    COCA has exactly one hit for “vum,” which in context appears to be a typo or ocr-screwup for “yum.” For some reason this discussion makes me wonder to what extent anyone naturally uses the word “vim” outside the fixed phrase “vim and vigor.”

  13. Interesting, I can’t say I’ve ever heard any of these expressions (I may have heard “I swanny” once or twice when I was very young, but that’s it, and I’m not even sure about that), though, they must be quite dated and out-of-use at this point.
    Cheers,
    Andrew

  14. I’m sure I heard ‘I swan’ (not swanny) in a movie or two. Gone with the Wind?

  15. ‘I swan, Missy Scarlett’?

  16. Deacon CN says:

    As a deacon from New England, I dew vum to embrace this wonderful old word in my speech!

Speak Your Mind

*