Many years ago I was reading a book about (I think) the Crusades in which there was a footnote mentioning a medieval exclamation of contempt, tprut, that turned up in a number of languages. I recently recalled this and thought I’d investigate; it turns out it’s in the OED:

prut, int. and n.
1. An exclamation of contempt.
c1300 in Langtoft Chron. (MS. Fairfax 22, lf. 4), Tprut! Skot riveling, In unsel timing crope thu out of cage. 1303 R. BRUNNE Handl. Synne 3014 And seyþ ‘prut for þy cursyng, prest!’ a1779 D. GRAHAM Janet Clinker’s Orat. Writ. 1883 II. 150 If they had tell’d me tuts, or prute no, I laid them o’er my knee, and a com’d crack for crack o’er their hurdies. 1870 LUBBOCK Orig. Civiliz. viii. 282 From pr, or prut, indicating contempt.

And the Middle English Dictionary has an entry, with a remarkable variety of spellings: “prut, interj. Also ptrot, tprut, tprot, thprut, trupth, trut. [AL ptrut, phrut & OF trout, trut, tproupt, tropt.] An exclamation of contempt or disapproval; ~ for a fig for (sb. or sth.).” Their first cite is the same as the OED’s (with different punctuation); their next is from Harley’s “The Execution of Sir Simon Fraser” (quoted here): “Tprot, scot, for þi strif!/ hang vp þyn hachet ant þi knyf,” and there are several more. It’s a pity this savory ejaculation has fallen out of use. Anybody have other examples from medieval languages?


  1. The bit about “From pr […] indicating contempt” makes me suspect that this is actually a paralinguistic sound, perhaps an ejective bilabial trill. Surely nobody speaking English ever said “pr”.

  2. John Emerson says

    Sounds like a spitting sound.

  3. John Emerson says

    It reminds me of the sound cartoonists represent as “tsk tsk”, which I’ve heard pronounced “tisk tisk” when think it just means a sarcastic “tch” kind of consonant sound.

  4. Specifically, “tsk tsk” is two consecutive alveolar clicks, as opposed to the two lateral clicks used to get a horse moving.

  5. to get a horse moving
    Now I know what tprut reminds me of.
    In Russian, “tpru-u-u” is used to stop the horse from moving.

  6. Whoa is me, giddy up, gee up, tis whot i use for me old nag, to stop and to get of its last legs before it goes off to the knackers yard.
    Now I be knackered.

  7. Not sure if that’s what you mean, but I have always been fascinated by the medieval Czech curse word / ejaculation “krleš”. I have encountered this word in various medieval writings, chronicles and such, where it was regarded as a some sort of magical incantation. Some authors would use it in the sense of “woe to me!”, some used it as a curse and some even as a substitute for “my God”. I was therefore a bit surprised when I found out that it’s actually a mutilated version of Greek “kyrie eleison” and it can be traced back to the 10th century Czech version of a litany entitled “Hospodine, pomiluj ny” (“Lord have mercy on us”). Full text: http://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hospodine_pomiluj_ny

  8. Prut is used in modern Dutch, and in various variants in various other Lowlands dialects, to refer to mud, coffee grounds and, by extension, to other filthy and unsuitable stuff. I think it’s the sound made by walking through deep mud, in which context the t-initials make sense. Here’s more: http://www.surfbirds.com/phorum/read.php?f=56&i=6473&t=6473 I think it turns up in C17th texts, but I can’t remember seeing it earlier

  9. Tatyana’s “tpru-u-u” is “ptrooo” in Swedish. Bilabial trill?

  10. I’m reminded of ‘ptooey’

  11. In order to stop a horse in Danish people use “Pruh” [pru:].
    “Prut” [pʁut], though, means “fart”. I’m wondering whether it’s an onomatopoeticon.

  12. One that has gone out of use in English is “fie”. Swedish still has it as “fy”.

  13. It’s a raspberry, surely?

  14. No but I once heard a commentator on a horse-jumping competition say someone had been “ejaculated” out of his seat!
    I take it you’re not counting swear words used as exclamations like egad, zounds – although those may not be medieval anyway. How about “fie” and “tush”? I wonder how old the “bah” is in Dickens’ “bah humbug”. And what did people say before “wow” came into use?

  15. Eric Banks says

    RL Stevenson has this passage in his utterly charming “Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes,” in which he relates his difficulties with Modestine, his donkey:
    My deus ex machinâ, before he left me, supplied some excellent, if inhumane, advice; presented me with the switch, which he declared she would feel more tenderly than my cane; and finally taught me the true cry or masonic word of donkey-drivers, ‘Proot!’  All the time, he regarded me with a comical, incredulous air, which was embarrassing to confront; and smiled over my donkey-driving, as I might have smiled over his orthography, or his green tail-coat.  But it was not my turn for the moment.

  16. John Emerson says

    Another triumph of the Hat Disseminated Intelligence. By adding together small bits of fact such as this one (and the immediately preceding explanation of the “Senyora de la O”), gradually we will attain the elusive Theory of Everything, bit by bit.

  17. I’m waiting for the elusive Senyora de la Tprut.

  18. John Emerson says

    Before sainthood I believe that her name was Dulcinea, though she had another name before that one which I forget.

  19. John Emerson says

    IIRC Michaux wrote a poem about Le Maitre d’O,

  20. -It’s a pity this savory ejaculation has fallen out of use. Anybody have other examples from medieval languages?-
    Conmpletely agree. Isn’t amazing how we have become more and more intelligent and less and less colorful.

  21. Graham Webb says

    Don’t you think that when Father Adam told RL Stevenson to cry “Proot!” to urge Modestine to walk faster he was pulling the Englishman’s leg? “Prout” is French for “fart” and one’s donkey probably does plenty of it, the jet stream of the prout even helping the animal to advance. Perhaps when Stevenson later says “I prooted like a lion, I prooted mellifluously like a sucking-dove” he was letting on that he knew his leg had been pulled?

  22. Alpha Tom C. N ME says

    Contempt or disapproval. Another term for dishonoring in means or by the way someone tells Someone off that’s not how that’s done “I can only try to show you the right way it’s up to you if you honor the way I’m doing this”

  23. David Marjanović says

    In German, horses are stopped with brrr and started with lateral clicks.

  24. Both tpru and ptru in the horse-stopping sense are attempts to render an interjection transcribable as [tʙː] ~ [tʙuː] ~ [ʙuː] that’s spread indeed quite widely (and by now often creating /tru/ ~ /pru/ ~ /bru/ etc. byforms via spelling pronunciation). The farthest-off attestation I have seen is from Komi, though it could have gotten further than that still through the Russians.

  25. Lars Mathiesen says

    The horse-stopping sound I learned is a sort of simultaneous lingual and labial voiced trill — and where [ʙː] alone only works (for me) with protruded rounding, the ʙ͜r sound needs spread lips. (I am guessing that there is some sort of airflow-enabled entrainment of the vibrating parts of lips and tongue, it certainly feels as if they are vibrating at the same frequency).

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