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Urban Junkie

Friday, January 06, 2006

Grrrr ...

Put the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and let it go sharply. Involve your teeth in the process if you can. What is the sound that emerges? Something like ‘tch’? Maybe ‘tsa’ or just a softened ‘ta’? Can you manage tsk? I’ve been trying really hard, and I cannot. Not without a vowel involved, in which case I can manage tisk or ts-ka.

The dictionary on ‘tsk’: A sucking noise made by suddenly releasing the tongue from the hard palate, used to express disappointment or sympathy.

I disagree. I don’t think the human mouth is designed to pronounce ‘tsk’, and it is not a word that springs spontaneously from the lips (or out of the hard palate) when in the throes of disappointment.

Then there is ‘pshaw’. Another thorn in my side. Pshaw is, apparently, imitative of a sound made when irritated, disgusted or impatient, made by (get this) “a sharp exhalation and sigh combined into one”. Where did the P come from, I’d like to know. I have exhaled and I have sighed but I can get no further than ‘phoo’ (or ‘pha’) on one hand and ‘shaw’ on the other. Besides, is the P silent or it intended to be pronounced? Why would we have a word imitative of a natural sound with a silent P?

My point is this (yes, I do have one - this wasn’t just a fun game, even if you’re having a good time exhaling sharply and smacking your tongue against your hard palate). Aren’t words like tsk intended to be onomatopoeic? I have no problem if they did not masquerade as natural sounds. Especially natural sounds that we spontaneously emit at times of heightened emotion. Who has the time to struggle with silent Ps when otherwise rendered speechless by extreme disgust? Give me a good old ‘bah’ any day. Or several other unprintables (but easily pronouncables).

And we have an armload of these masqueraders. Take harrumph. Not a problem to pronounce, this one – but only if you don’t know what you’re aiming for.

Harrumph; intr v . To make a show of clearing one’s throat.

I challenge you to clear your throat and produce a sound remotely resembling harrumph. I clear my throat and I get nnnkrrhhhnnn. I say harrumph and I get ha-rrumf. Or variations, if I play around with the vowels. Haa-rroomf. Hay-rrumf. Etc.

Is this a sign of evolution, do you suppose? Were these at one time actually the natural sounds people emitted when experiencing the said emotion, which over time we have lost the ability to emit? Or is it just a case of very poor dictionary writing?

I am, in any case, collecting these. It has become a personal passion. If you have any, do let me know.


  • Ok! You've just made me do weird things and I've been making weird sounds for almost 5 minutes and I have 5 pairs of eyes staring at me right now.

    Well, I did manage a Harrumph and not a nnnkrrhhhnnn. Well, if you have been smoking for a while, you'll get Harrumph. People with a whiskey and soda voice like Bryan Adams or Rod Stewart should be able to get a Harrumph.

    By Blogger Arun, at 10:46 AM, January 06, 2006  

  • brilliant post....I really can get what you're talking about...I've wondered about these shameless impostors too...we have way too much time on our hands...

    By Blogger the Monk, at 10:19 PM, January 07, 2006  

  • One has a personal favourite : brrr. One has observed people saying many things when they're freezing cold, but 'brrr' is not one of them.

    Additionally, one has always wondered why flies and mosquitoes are said to 'buzz'. They clearly have no conventional lips, so the 'b' sound just wouldn't be possible. It's more like a znnn or a gnnn if it's a mosquito. Flies are remarkably silent, especially the little ones .. bigger flies, strangely enough, go sort of 'brrr'.

    One seems to be going nuts. Let's just be glad this wasn't a poem.

    By Blogger One in a Billion, at 6:49 AM, January 08, 2006  

  • must be a czech dictionary :p

    By Blogger manuscrypts, at 8:43 PM, January 08, 2006  

  • muahz - this is supposed to be the sound you get when you kiss.Now,i have tried kissing different surfaces like skin, metal, wood (i am not saying it all belonged to a person) and nevah did i get this one....do try it and prove me correct ;)

    By Blogger Siri, at 10:01 PM, January 08, 2006  

  • What about the classic 'zzzzz...' If anybody ever tried that, they sure wouldnt get much sleep..

    By Anonymous Ayesha, at 1:50 AM, January 09, 2006  

  • Guess what? I got several startled looks from everyone in my bay at office when i tried to make these sounds. And finally i managed 'tch'!!!

    Ok, no i didn't. I just want to believe i did because THIS HAS TURNED INTO A DANGEROUS OBSESSION!! I can't focus on work Anjali.

    By Anonymous tara, at 3:15 AM, January 09, 2006  

  • Hilarious! Where do you get these ideas....

    By Blogger apu, at 8:36 AM, January 09, 2006  

  • And i thought there were things like this only in russian dictionaries...am wrong..too much time on hand is it madam?

    By Blogger arvindiyer, at 10:27 PM, January 09, 2006  

  • Arun: Aha! That sounds like a very reasonable explanation for Harrumph. So your theory is that among the more prolific contributors to the dictionary was someone with a whiskey-soda voice (love that term). Thank you, that helps.

    the monk, arvind: Too much time you say? Not at all. These are important matters - these words are going to be handed down for generations, isn't it critical that we get them right?

    the one (and only): thank you for those gems. And I am extremely disappointed that this wasn't a poem. I'd love to see you create a rhyme with 'brrr'.

    manuscrypts: That is one explanation, yes. And somehow these words have been thoughtlessly imported into English. Must remember to examine a czech dictionary.

    siri: I will test out 'muahz' at the earliest opportunity.

    ayesha: thanks for your contribution to the cause. Zzzz is an excellent example!

    tara: Ooops! Sorry to have created such chaos. But for a worthy cause, wouldn't you say?

    apu: thanks :)... and I have no idea where that came from. I am thus far resisting the explanation that I have way too much time on my hands.

    By Blogger Anjali, at 5:22 AM, January 10, 2006  

  • tsk! tsk! tsk! that's all I have to say. Oh and pshaw.

    (Actually I'm glad someones taken the time to investigate such a grave and serious concern!)

    By Blogger The ramblings of a shoe fiend, at 3:50 AM, January 11, 2006  

  • One has linked to this post and added a few cents' worth. One hopes that this is acceptable.

    By Blogger One in a Billion, at 10:01 PM, January 13, 2006  

  • Ladies and Gentlemen, Anjali Puri is funny! And makes people get weird looks from co-workers :) Tsk tsk!

    By Blogger Rahul, at 11:06 PM, January 17, 2006  

  • Your post was interesting.

    You should try this exercise with a native english speaker. As an Indian staying with an American roommate I can say that, the way we pronounce sounds differs very much from the way Americans(the British too) pronounce. (for example my roommate cannot make the 'ra' sounds like we Indians make.)I agree with your supposition that the sounds could have been distorted in "evolution". Furthermore there is the cultural reference aspect to the way we speak or for that matter the way Americans do. These expressions could have developed as a result of a certain interaction pattern between native english speakers, which undoubtably would be different from ours. Contributing to this confusion is the fact that English is a very complex language with a lot of exceptions and a great deal of borrowings from other languages.

    On a side note, with reference to 'brrr' my roommate says that we say 'brrr' to convey that we are feeling cold but not cold enough to shiver. Once again I would refer to the cultural presence which we are generally not exposed to.

    By Anonymous sri, at 7:28 PM, January 22, 2006  

  • A casual glance at the comments shows that 'onomatopoeia' had been the rage for quite sometime.Self feels that the word 'ono..' would be more apt to describe deteriorated bone conditions that afflicts elderly citizens or with equal aptness,the state of mental imbalance resulting from association with lunatic bosses.

    By Anonymous csk, at 1:09 AM, January 24, 2006  

  • "Put the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and let it go sharply. Involve your teeth in the process if you can. What is the sound that emerges? Something like ‘tch’? Maybe ‘tsa’ or just a softened ‘ta’?"

    the sound that you would make - is how typical people from maharashtra and andhra say the sound 'ch'. check out any of kishore kumar songs and you will know what i mean (this works for how 'ja' is pronounced too). he is an honorary maharashtrian.

    - s.b.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:12 AM, September 18, 2006  

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