An entertaining Ask MetaFilter thread analyzes the burning question: what did you say as a kid when someone got in trouble? The poster remembers something like “aww-dee!” and is looking for support, since “no one I’ve brought this up to has ever remembered it”; one person agrees (“Definitely heard “aww-dee” as a kid, but I don’t remember where”), but most have never heard of it and contribute their own remembered outcries, which make for enjoyable reading. My pick of the crop:

South Georgia, early-mid nineties: “Ah-woo-woo!” I’ve actually discussed this with peers raised in less rural parts of the world, and they’ve all agreed that this is really weird.
posted by honeydew

Yes, it is indeed really weird. (None of them are familiar to me, but I am a visitor from the Pleistocene; I believe we just said things like “Uh-oh, you’re gonna get it!”)


  1. I said [wu:::25] in the early 60s in New Jersey, and Irene did the same thirty years later in NYC. But Gale in the late 50s in North Carolina went with “uh-oh”.

  2. In Texas, in the mid-sixties, we said “ummmmmmmm!” with a rising pitch.

  3. I remember ‘Aw, gee!’ as a post-WWII schoolkid, via American movies.
    I suppose I first heard “Uh-oh!’ in the eighties.

  4. Wish I had a metafilter account!
    England, West Midlands, ‘ommmmmm…’ – pitch rising anywhere between I guess a major second to a fifth, with a rest on the final pitch. Actually, a rounded ‘ahhhhhh…’ too, smaller rise, more around a minor third. Stunned how similar this (the former) is to the Texas version!
    ‘Um-mah’ meant ‘what a stupid thing to say/how could you be so thick, thicko’ so it’s quite funny to see it in the comments meaning ‘you’re in trouble!’. (intonation pattern of AmE ‘duh’)

  5. I’m pretty sure, when I went to school in NYC (both in Brooklyn and Staten Island – there were subtle differences between the two neighborhoods, most notably the fact that since I moved to Staten Island I haven’t once heard somebody seriously say “youse”, but back in Bensonhurst I used to hear it all the time!) the phrase was “Oooh, what $NAME did/said!”, but the metafilter comment about “shame on you” triggered a memory as well. Not of hearing kids saying that, but of this feature that runs on one of the local news shows where they go into a local business that does something reprehensible and film them doing it, with the little theme song “Shame, shame shame – shame on you!”
    This little parody video pretty much sums it up. Also – the ubiquitous “I’m-selling-candy-on-the-train-for-my-team” kids. Not that I begrudge them $5 for seriously marked up bags of M&Ms, but….

  6. Not exactly when people were getting into trouble, but our high-school exclamation (late 1960s) for something unpleasant was “Ug-Oh”. I think it came from a reading pronunciation of “Ugh” as “UG”. Not realizing it was supposed to be the same as “Yech”, etc.

  7. I have said “ug” and “ugh” (and “ick”) interchangeably for as long as I can remember, I’m pretty sure I picked that up from my parents. My grandmother’s expression of distaste was “oog”. Somewhere up the family tree this must stem from a reading pronunciation of “ugh” as “ug”, but I have no idea how far back.

  8. (I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with “ug” until as an adult, my wife found it funny and pointed out that I was mispronouncing “ugh”.)

  9. @The Modesto Kid: Maybe your grandmother picked up “oog” from Walt Kelly’s Pogo.

  10. Maneki Nekko says

    Put me down for uh-oh. And we were saying it in the 1960s, so it’s not just an 80s thing.
    People in Hawaii say “Auwe!” (pronounced ow-WAY or sometimes ow-VAY).
    I knew an Italian-Swiss woman who said “Oof!”
    Wandering off-topic: when I was a boy in Hampton, Virginia in the late 60s/early 70s, we had an expression I’ve never heard anywhere else. When somebody did something stupid, or when somebody else put that person down with a snappy remark, everybody in earshot would say “Yoose!” (rhymes with moose), drawing out the S-sound into a fading hiss. Is anyone out there familiar with this?

  11. @Rodger C — that is certainly possible, she and my grandfather loved that strip.

  12. I was glad to see that some of the MetaFilter commenters mentioned my favorite such term, endemic to the Great Plains: aw-ver/um-burr and variations thereof. I learned it from folks from western Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota; it seems to extend from eastern Colorado up to North Dakota and Montana; wouldn’t be surprised if it was in western Minnesota as well. I used to wonder where it came from, but in the context of these threads it seems to fit within the continuum of such expressions. For what it’s worth, on the South Side of Chicago we just said “oooo,” the length and singsonginess of which reflected the degree of trouble. This was often accompanied (as I’m told “aw-ver” is) by the “shame-shame” finger-rubbing gesture.

  13. We said “uh-oh” too, in the west of Ireland, and occasionally “mm-mm” with the same intonation.

  14. There is an iPhone app developer who when a bug is reported, writes Ayup! I have no idea what country he is from or what native language he speaks, but his name is Andre (French?)
    I (Southern, AmE) grew up with and continue to say uh-oh!

  15. Hand over mouth ‘ummmmmm’ rising pitch. And sometimes the “the “shame-shame” finger-rubbing gesture” one index finger held perpendicular to the other and rubbed down. Early 70s California. I moved shortly thereafter to Rhode Island and don’t remember a big change in the naughty reaction.

  16. Hand over mouth ‘ummmmmm’ rising pitch.
    Me too.

  17. That’s a weird and evocative discussion; I hadn’t imagined there were so many equivalents. One of my earliest school memories is of wrongly crayoning-in in advance some daily counting-exercise book, and some other child saying “Wheee … ummm” about this crime.

  18. Anne-Catherine Hart says

    In South Carolina, my students say “oooohhhhhhhh.”

  19. Ayup (stress on the first syllable) is a New England affirmative, and has nothing to do with uh-oh/woooo. The final unreleased /p/ is optional, as in Yep vs. Yeh/Yeah. So he’s saying “Yes, that bug does exist”.

    There’s another ayup, conventionally ‘ay oop or hey up, which is a Midlands greeting.

  20. Grew up in a Volga-German community in Kansas (Hays, KS) and we said “aw-ver” in that sing-songy tone, accompanied by the finger rubbing “shame, shame”. Am I understanding that the consensus is that it’s just made up? I always assumed it was some corruption of the crazy German dialect spoken in my home town.

  21. David Marjanović says

    Am I understanding that the consensus is that it’s just made up? I always assumed it was some corruption of the crazy German dialect spoken in my home town.

    Aber, aber! is in fact used that way in some places by some people; and there are dialects that merge /b/ into /v/ between vowels.

  22. David Marjanović says

    …uh, by “used in this way” I mean “to express ‘don’t do that’ or ‘you shouldn’t have done that’, rarely that a third party shouldn’t have done something”…

  23. In NE Montana where I was raised, the vocalization indicating shame and scandal is ‘ahh-verrrrr!’ with the length of the verrr proportional to the degree of naughtiness of the crime. The vocalization is often punctuated with biting the lower lip and inhaling an ‘ffff’ sound. The reaction can be ornamented with many syllables added to both the ‘ahh’ and the ‘verr.’ Scraping one index finger with another is always optional.

  24. Fascinating! I’m glad you found the thread.

  25. David Marjanović says

    Consider my mind blown.

  26. Would the ‘aw-ver’ or ‘ow-vay’ a number of you say here be related to the ‘oi vay’ Yiddish phrase expressing exasperation?

    Back to utterances of observing naughtiness – my friends here in Australian and New Zealand are discussing how from the 70s to 90s we would say ‘uM-aaah’ (guessing spelling since we only ever said it as kids). It seems similar to a number of the things shared here.

    And then there is that ‘shame’ finger-rubbing that I had _totally_ forgotten till reading this!

  27. Would the ‘aw-ver’ or ‘ow-vay’ a number of you say here be related to the ‘oi vay’ Yiddish phrase expressing exasperation?

    Almost certainly not, but I’m glad you found the thread and added your own experience!

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