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Origin of the word "Wow"

A discussion of word histories and origins.

Origin of the word "Wow"

Postby dsteve54 » Mon Mar 07, 2011 10:26 am

Can't find origin of the word "Wow" in order to explain it to a non-English speaker "why we say that". Unlike the word "oof " and the like, it does not seem to be an onomatopoeia, at least I am not sure I would on my own come up with such an expulsion of air by being amazed at something.

The best I can seem to find is that it is from a "Scottish interjection from the 16th century", but that does not really explain how a Scot would come up with it.
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Postby bnjtokyo » Tue Mar 08, 2011 7:23 am

It seems you found just about all there is to know.

Sir Walter Scot used it: " Wow, woman, the Bertrams of Ellangowan are the auld Dingawaies lang syne. There is a sang about ane o' them marrying a daughter of the King of Man . . . ."
(Guy Mannering)

Robert Burns used it
"But Maggie stood, right sair astonish'd,
Till, by the heel and hand admonish'd,
She ventur'd forward on the light;
And, wow! Tam saw an unco sight!"
(Tam O'Shanter)

Lewis Carroll used it
"They cam' to me," said that fair ladye.
"Wow, they were flimsie things!"
(The Lang Coortin')

These uses all seem to be in some dialect or another.

As to why or how? Your guess is as good as anyone's wild conjecture.
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Postby bnjtokyo » Wed Mar 09, 2011 4:50 am

Still no explanation as to why, but I found another early use in the Child Ballad 7B "Earl Brand":

"But bye and ryde the Black Douglas,
And wow but he was rough!
For he pulld up the bonny brier
And flang't in St Mary's Loch."
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Re: Origin of the word "Wow"

Postby Slava » Wed Mar 09, 2011 10:08 am

dsteve54 wrote:...I am not sure I would on my own come up with such an expulsion of air by being amazed at something.
I find that when I say this word I'm breathing in more than out. At least a tissue held in front of my face doesn't move unless I pronounce it as if it began with an "h." So, this leads me to think it may actually be somewhat onomatopoeic. Maybe it's the way someone decided a sudden intake of breath sounded.

bnjtokyo: for a lark I looked up flang. It turns out to be a real word in and of itself. It's a miner's two-headed pick.
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Postby Stargzer » Wed Mar 09, 2011 8:14 pm

From the Online Etimology Dictionary:

wow 1510s, Scottish interjection, a natural expression of amazement. The verb meaning "overwhelm with delight or amazement" is first recorded 1924, Amer.Eng. slang. Used as a noun meaning "unqualified success" since 1920. "This old interjection had a new popularity in the early 1900s and again during the 1960s and later" [DAS].
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Postby bnjtokyo » Thu Mar 10, 2011 3:55 am

I think "flang't" is a varient on the past tense of "fling"
My dictionary says that in Middle English, the principal parts of the verb were "flingen, flung (more often flang) flungen"

That is, the Black Douglas pulled up the bonny brier and threw it in the loch.
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Postby Perry » Tue Mar 15, 2011 12:41 pm

Can there be a discussion of Wow, without referencing Kate Bush's song of that name?
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Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Dec 19, 2011 1:35 pm

Welcome sStevenson, and please keep posting! A number of first or second posts have popped up in the last few months, only to disappear as mysteriously as new particles in an accelerator. And all contributed something! BTW, do those early English quotes sound remarkably like Alice in Wonderland to you? Twas brillig and all that...
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Postby Slava » Mon Dec 19, 2011 4:34 pm

sStevenson, if you do keep posting, please remove the advertisement from your signature. That is not accepted on this board.
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Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Dec 19, 2011 5:22 pm

slava, but I didn't notice until you pointed it out!
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Postby Slava » Mon Dec 19, 2011 5:29 pm

They can't be trusted. Many are false links to bot-nets and the like.
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Postby bnjtokyo » Tue Dec 20, 2011 10:52 am

Well, sStevenson, what is a word? Aren't interjections a "word class"? Does not "wow" have a different meaning than "ugh" or "oops"? Is it not arbitrary? (That is, unlike laughter, which is a behavior all humans exhibit, the sound sequence [waʊ] does not occur in all languages nor does it, in those languages in which it does appear, always express the same meaning it does in English.

Turning now to "table," it too is arbitrary, and its meaning is entirely dependent on a social contract among speakers of English. According to the etymological dictionary linked to this site, it is

from O.Fr. table "board, plank, writing table, picture" (11c.), and late O.E. tabele, from W.Gmc. *tabal (cf. O.H.G. zabel, Ger. Tafel), both from L. tabula "a board, plank, table," originally "small flat slab or piece" usually for inscriptions or for games, of uncertain origin, related to Umbrian tafle "on the board."

and what happened before that is lost in the mists of time. Or did Kipling include an explanation in the "Just So Stories"?
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