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Cries of pain

January 22, 2017

A little-remarked difference between American and British English is how we respond to experiencing sudden pain: British people say either “Ow!” or “Ouch!”, but as far as I am aware American people only ever say “Ouch!” (I think I am right about that but of course prepared to be corrected if not.) It does seem odd that Americans should be so punctilious about getting that final    –ch in, even when in severe pain.

Not as punctilious as the Japanese, though: when they hurt themselves they say Itai! which is no mere exclamation but an actual verb meaning “It hurts!”

My favourite cry of pain, however, is French. When French people feel pain they shout Aie! This is pronounced exactly the same as the French word for garlic, ail. I remember when I learned this as a schoolboy thinking how hilarious it was that when French people hurt themselves they effectively shout out “Garlic!”

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come!

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    Ouch is used more frequently as an ironic comment when something unfortunate has been said or done. It takes considerable sang froid to exclaim “ouch” after whacking your thumb with a hammer so the BBC had a competition (on Nationwide, I suspect) in the 70’s to find a non-swearing alternative. The winner was Gluggins! It hasn’t caught on.

  2. Mark Brafield permalink

    I noticed that when my very young son had hurt a bit of his body for which he had not yet learned the word (such as ‘elbow’), he would say that he had ‘hurt my this bit’. At the time I found this utterly charming, although as I thought about it later on, it occurred to me that this was perfectly logical, and probably the way in which we all learn any language, whether our own or foreign. On the subject of ‘ouch’, though, one of the (many) pleasures of of ‘Banana Splits’ when I was a kid, was when something particularly painful occurred, such as a 10 ton weight falling out of a cloudless blue sky, to be greeted with ‘that was a double ooch’. I still like this formulation and occasionally use it to this day.

  3. Thanks for this, Mark. And also thanks for your pledge for the book – really appreciate it!

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