Thursday, January 18, 2007


Oops, my train of thought got derailed...
(Image from Wikipedia)

I meant to write "woops." Whoops! I forgot the aitch!

How carelessly we treat this little word. Even the Online Etymological Dictionary has a careless entry:
oops: "a natural exclamation" [OED] of surprise at doing something awkward, but only attested from 1933.

whoops: exclamation of dismay, 1925, variant of oops.
Notice that? The little word "oops" is only attested since 1933, yet the earlier attested "whoops" (1925) is described as merely "a variant of oops"!

Oops indeed.

A little thought would make pretty clear that "oops" more likely derives from "whoops" than the reverse, for the dropping of the aitch and then of the double-u conforms to the linguistic tendency in English toward simplification of words:
whoops --> woops --> oops
Not that this law of linguistic simplification always works. Only this morning, one of my regular readers, Kate Marie, complicated "oops" by spelling it "ooops"!

Not to mention that overcomplication of "oops-a-daisy"! -- which the linguist Gerald Leonard Cohen wonders about:
And what in the world is going on with "oops-a-daisy"?
If Cohen -- professor of linguistics at the University of Missouri at Rolla and renowned expert on slang -- is wondering, then no wonder I am, too.

I'd email Professor Cohen to see what he's found on this topic, but he'd probably inform me that there is no such "linguistic tendency in English toward simplification of words."

And I'd have to say, "Oops..."


At 4:20 PM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

Oh, my . . . a whole post prompted by my spelling blunder, which you have now advertised to the blogosphere!

I am equal parts honored and embarassed.

At 4:21 PM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

Whoops . . . I mean embarrassed!

At 4:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

KM, I reckon you bared something, anyway.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:18 PM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

What about "poo"? As used in, "Oh, poo!"

Any relation?

At 12:50 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I question the legitimacy of etymology when investigating frivolous language. People invent and decorate all the time, especially with children. With my daughters, whenever we lifted them, or woke them up for school, we would say "up-a-doodle-doo", which has to be an amalgam of "upsa-daisy" and "cock-a-doodle-doo". I don't think anyone else says it, but I suspect my children will use it with their children, and they will probably make up something new that no one else has used. The mutation rate in play memes is probably much higher than it is with generic memes.

There is, by the way, a very amusing evaluation of the word "oops" in one of Bill Cosby's early comedy LPs. My nephew played it until it wouldn't play any more.

At 3:11 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daddio, I think that's just a euphemism for what we usually don't call "excrement."

But maybe you're suggesting that "oops" is "poo" spelled backwards ... sort of?

I don't know about that.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:15 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JJ, you're right that people invent playful words a lot, but these still have an etymology. For instance, you note that "up-a-doodle-doo" has to be an amalgam of "upsa-daisy" and "cock-a-doodle-doo."

So ... one might be able to trace other frivolous words.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:55 AM, Blogger dearieme said...

And perhaps you mean "honoured", KM? Anyway, what about boomps-a-daisy? And even ups-a-daisy?

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dearieme, thanks for the suggestions -- more material to chew on.

Jeffery Hodges

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