How the Internet is saving the interjection.

Language and how we use it.
Feb. 16 2007 12:38 PM

Pardon the Interjection

The Internet and the rise of awwa, meh, feh, and heh.

(Continued from Page 1)

Interjections are suitable for online writing, as I say, because of the way online writing mimics speech. But newspaper and magazine writers who spell out interjections and other vocalisms run the risk of coming off as cute—as in yucky ew rather than adorable awwa. Most egregiously abused are what linguists call "discourse markers"—short sounds (it seems a stretch to call them "words") that speakers use to register hesitation, agreement, encouragement, ambivalence, and other responses. Uh, er, and um, in particular, have been flagrantly overused by feature writers and columnists to signal an impending attempt at irony or humor; the maneuver is now well beyond cliché, somewhere in the neighborhood of desperation. A LexisNexis search of major English-language newspapers for um yields 132 hits in just the last week, including a striking number in various newspapers' coverage of the Grammy Awards:

The Toronto Sun's preview: "Watch for Justin Timberlake pairing up with someone in a duet (which often can be quite, um, revealing)."

Advertisement

The Chicago Sun-Times, looking back on a winner of yore: "the Starland Vocal Band, who gave us the, um, unforgettable single, 'Afternoon Delight.' "

The Oregonian, referring to Christina Aguilera: "the girl who was once known as much for her, um, dirrtyness showed she cleans up real nice, too."

St. Petersburg Times: "Shakira, Wyclef, and, um, Shakira's abs teamed up for the dance smash Hips Don't Lie."

My reaction to all that?

Feh. 

Interjection stylings by Maria Yagoda. Thanks to Mark Liberman for counsel on tonetic stress mark notation.

Correction, Feb. 21: This piece originally asserted that urbandictionary.com includes 737 definitions of meh. It has 173 definitions of the word. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Ben Yagoda is the author of a new e-book about recent language trends, You Need to Read This.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 8:32 AM Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy—and a Mess. Can the Movies Fix It?
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 20 2014 7:00 AM Gallery: The Red Planet and the Comet
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.