12 April 2009


My kidney stone forced me to go to the hospital, where a doctor crammed a laser into my innermost plumbing.

Which makes me think of the word ouch, an interjection expressing unexpected pain. How is this handled in other languages? Looking at Wiktionary it appears that ai, au, and [ox] are common equivalents in Indo-European languages.

Looking up ouch in some of the hardcopy dictionaries in my collection, I found the following:

Italian: ahi
Ojibwe: yawenh
Lakota: yuŋ
Esperanto: aj, aŭ, huj

Various sources for Japanese give itai, wa' (that's a "truncated wa"), or ite. It seems to me that in the anime and jdorama programs I've watched, the Japanese sometimes say itetete – a string of te syllables, unlike anything else I have heard, but vaguely similar to the noises that some English-speakers make when shivering in extreme cold.

Many of the dictionaries in my collection do not give an equivalent for ouch, which is unfortunate but not surprising. Interjections and onomatopes are often neglected by bilingual dictionary editors.


Christophe said...

Interestingly, the Japanese "itai" is a full-fledged verbal adjective, meaning "painful, sore", which just happens to be used as an interjection to mean "ouch". Basically, when a Japanese is hurt, they literally shout: "it's painful!".

On the other hand, Japanese is full of onomatopoeia used as full-fledged words, so it might be an original onomatopoeia that just started to be used as a true adjective.

French is very unimaginative, with "aïe" [aj] or "aouh" [aw]. I used to think everyone shouted about the same thing when they got hurt (I thought it was just a reflex), but it seems to be actually quite different depending on the language. Who would have thought that linguistic arbitrariness would even influence people's cries of pain...

Leo said...

ouch = = ! !
Afrikaans=ai, au;

Justin said...

Sorry about the kidney stone :\

From what I understand, "itai" and "ite(tete...)" are actually the same thing, but saying "itetete" is like saying "owowowow." The English long-I sound pronounced by lazy mouths (including that of Cartman from South Park) seems to end up sounding more like the short E sound. People in pain (and Cartman) don't really care to enunciate, I guess, no matter what language they speak.

That makes Japanese and Tagalog ways of saying "ouch" similar on two levels. "Aray!" literally means "Pain!" and can end up sounding more like "Are!"