• ouch •
Pronunciation: æwch • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Interjection, Noun
Meaning: 1. (Ouch!) An interjection uttered in reaction to a mild but sudden pain. 2. (Poetic, rare) The setting for precious stones, especially a brooch or buckle, or a brooch or buckle set with one or more gems.
Notes: The British sometimes spell the noun ouche, but then it is so rare that very few people spell it at all. The Oxford English dictionary lists it as "obsolete", but all the major dictionaries still carry it. The interjection is still quite a common verbal reaction to mild pain; severe pain usually elicits, "OW!"
In Play: Words about precious stones often lead to both senses of ouch: "I paid $200 for the sapphire and the jeweler wanted $300 for the ouch to set it in. Ouch!" The interjection is most often used to express physical pain: "Ouch! I just dropped a volume of the Oxford English Dictionary on my foot!"
Word History: Today we again get two words for the price of none, for we have been talking about two entirely different words above. It is difficult to find an etymology of interjections since they don't really have meanings, but rather reflect vague attitudes of the speaker. Ouch would seem to be an extension of ow, but it was borrowed from outch, the Pennsylvania German variant of German autsch. The noun meaning "a jewel setting" came from Anglo-Norman (une) ouche, a mondegreen (reanalysis) of (une) nouch "(a) brooch". Nouch originated in a verb root meaning "to twist together", also found in English net and node. Could the origin of the interjection be the sound ladies utter in surprise when the pin of the jewel setting is misdirected into their skin? We'll never know.