A list of interjections you should be using
Perhaps the wildest of all the parts of speech, the interjection accounts for a fun swath of the English language, including curse words, expressions of joy, greetings, and even pseudo-magical incantations. In this post, I take a look at interjections we should all probably be using more often. Some of them you’ve probably heard before, but others will probably be new. Before you know it – bada bing! – we might be hearing these terms everywhere.
Although abracadabra – a word spoken by conjurors while performing a trick – might sound like a goofy invention of the 20th century, the word actually goes all the way to post-classical Latin at the end of the 4th century. Other magical interjections include alakazam and shazam.
If you’re parting from someone and feeling punny, you might consider deploying ‘Abyssinia’, the former European name of the country in northeastern Africa now called Ethiopia. Abyssinia!, of course, is shorthand for I’ll be seeing you!
Alexander Graham Bell would indeed be pleased if ahoy! were to come into vogue. Bell, the inventor of the telephone, originally suggested that ahoy be used when answering the phone as a greeting. (Bell, of course, didn’t invent the word; ahoy comes from nautical slang of the mid-18th century.) Thomas Edison is popularly credited with introducing hello as the alternative greeting and popularizing the use of the word as a general greeting; ahoy, on the other hand, never saw widespread acceptance.
Is there anything better than the word aloha? This multitalented Hawaiian word can be used both as a greeting and a farewell, as well as ‘good wishes’, ‘love’, or ‘affection’. The word derives from the same source as the Maori word aroha, which means ‘love, affection, pity’.
5. bada bing
Used to ‘emphasize that something will happen effortlessly and predictably’, this word was popularized by Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film The Godfather: ‘You’ve gotta get up close like this and bada-bing! you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit’. The word may have originated in imitation of the sound of a drum roll and cymbal clash.
6. bahala na
From Tagalog, this term in Philippine English expresses an attitude of ‘optimistic acceptance or fatalistic resignation, especially in acknowledging that the outcome of an uncertain or difficult situation is beyond one’s control or is preordained’. In this way, it is quite similar to que sera sera, ‘what will be, will be’. Bahala na is a shortened version of bahala na ang Diyos meaning ‘God will take care of it’.
Probably best known to English speakers for its use in World War II as a Japanese battle cry, the word banzai originally was used as a form of greeting to the Japanese emperor. The word banzai literally means ‘ten thousand years (of life to you)’.
8. blood and thunder
Expressing anger or exasperation, blood and thunder would be outdated if you used it today, but it does pack a nice 18th century punch if you’re conversing with a literature student.
Next time you’re in the pub and someone is being slow with a drink, you can forget the curt, rather typical chug! and try out the fuller chug-a-lug! Bonus points for loosely referencing an old country song.
Although the word comes with some baggage – it was first popularized as the cry of Chief Thunderthud on the US television show Howdy Doody – it remains a fun word, usually used to humorously express delight or satisfaction. Besides its appearances on Howdy Doody, the word was frequently heard on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as the catchphrase of Michelangelo.
Often appearing in stereotyped characterization of US rural speech, dagnabbit is a euphemistic alternation coming from ‘darn it’ and ultimately from ‘God damn it’.
One of the most famous interjections of all time, eureka comes from the Greek heurēka (‘I have found it’), and was uttered by Archimedes upon his discovery of how to determine the purity of gold. Reportedly, Archimedes made the discovery upon stepping into a bath and noticing that the water rose; he realized that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the part of his body that was submerged. Hence, it has become a cry of joy or satisfaction upon discovering something.
This archaic interjection of surprise or annoyance might sound goofy, but it actually has a pretty serious origin. Gadzooks is an alteration of ‘God’s hooks’, referring to the nails by which Jesus was fastened to the cross. An interjection with a similar etymology is zounds, which comes from an alteration of ‘by God’s wounds’.
The origins of this interjection, used (often humorously) to express mild surprise and enthusiasm, are not clear. Some claim that it is a fanciful substitute for Jerusalem!, an interjection that, believe it or not, was quite popular in 19th-century US, possibly as a non-blasphemous substitute for Jesus!
Used as a battle cry by US paratroopers, Geronimo has become by association something shouted by those making great leaps, or as a general word of exultation. The word comes from the name of an Apache Indian chief (1829–1909), although there is no consensus for the reasons behind this usage.
If someone lets a sneeze rip, be more original than bless you: try out gesundheit, which means ‘health’ in German, and wishes the sneezer good health.
17. Gordon Bennett
If you’re feeling surprise, incredulity, or exasperation and sense an interjection coming on, you might consider tossing out a full name: Gordon Bennet. James Gordon Bennett Jr. (1841–1918) was a U.S. publisher, editor, and sponsor of sporting events, and probably lent his name to the interjection, which may be a euphemistic substitution for gorblimey. (In turn, gorblimey is an alteration of ‘God blind me’.)
18. Great Scott
If you’re like me, Great Scott sounds mostly like a reference to Doc Brown of the Back to the Future trilogy. The interjection, which can express surprise, amazement, annoyance, or admiration, probably comes from the name of General Winfield Scott, US Army general, Commanding General of the US Army from 1841 – 1861, as an alteration of Great God. (More on ‘Great Scott’ and ‘Bob’s your uncle’.)
19. hasta la vista
Channel another Hollywood legend (need I tell you which one?) with hasta la vista. (The baby is optional.) Of course, hasta la vista is an actual borrowing from Spanish, in which the parting words literally mean ‘until the (next) sighting’.
20. hot diggety dog
Send your tongue tripping over this interjection! Expressing delight or strong approval, this is a hot contender for the goofiest interjection.
This humorous interjection is mostly found in imitations of upper-class, British public school girls, and often used ironically. Currently, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is looking for your help to locate the earliest appearance of the word.
From Tagalog, this Philippine English word is a salutation or greeting, and literally means ‘live’, in the sense of ‘long live ___!’ The word viva is similarly used in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Literally, mother-of-pearl refers to the smooth, iridescent inner layer of the shell of some molluscs. Figuratively, the term has been used as an interjection expressing surprise, disbelief, or dismay. Probably a euphemism for Mother of God, it is considered obsolete.
24. open sesame
In the tale Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, open sesame – after the French Sesame, ouvre-toi – is the magical phrase that opens the door to the robbers’ cave. Next time someone is about to hold open a door for you, feel free to inject some magic into the act.
25. pocas palabras
Mostly found in Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline English drama, the interjection pocas palabras comes from Spanish (literally ‘few words’), and means ‘enough said’ or ‘be of few words’. Oddly, the use of this term as an interjection is not found in Spanish.
Representing the letter ‘r’ for ‘received’ in radio communication (though in today’s radio code ‘r’ is ‘romeo’), roger is used to acknowledge the receipt of a message, or to affirm that a message has been understood or accepted. For the latter use, dad-rock fans might enjoy the military slang wilco (‘will comply’).
From the Urdu and Persian šābāš (from šād ‘joyful’ + bāš! (imperative) ‘be!’), the interjection shabash, which appears in Indian English, means ‘well done’.
This ‘magic’ interjection isn’t anywhere near as old as abracadabra. Shazam dates to the first part of the 20th century, and probably originated in children’s slang. It notably appeared in an early issue of Whiz Comics, as the name of an old wizard who turns Billy Batson into Captain Marvel.
29. tena koe
This Maori greeting, which can be found in New Zealand English, literally means ‘there you are’.
With unberufen, German once again demonstrates its propensity for coming up with useful words (see: Schadenfreude). This interjection is equivalent to the ‘touch wood’ or ‘knock on wood’ in English; it is meant to avoid an apprehended misfortune.
31. vogue la galère
This interjection, which means let’s get on with it! or let’s give it a go!, comes from French, and literally means ‘let the galley be rowed’.
Probably my favorite interjection, yowzer is an exclamation of enthusiastic approval or affirmation. Variations include yowsers and yowza.
From the Urdu zinda bād and its etymon Persian zinda bād, the term originated in the sense of ‘may (he, etc.) live!’ The interjection expresses approval and encouragement, typically specifying the thing or person in question by the preceding word or words, as in ‘Eleanor Roosevelt Zindabad!’
Zowie is an interjection expressing astonishment, generally as a reaction to a sudden or surprising act, and frequently connotes admiration.