PEW !! whats that??

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PEW !! whats that??

Post by mj99a » Tue Jun 24, 2008 12:26 am

I have scoured the web and cannot find any reference to the roots of the word pew as an exclamation of olfactory dissatisfaction.
It is a term that has been widely used for decades by many people in america (and perhaps elsewhere) and it is even used the as part of the name of the looney tunes character pepe le pew. It is a running gag in many cartoons using the initials PU. i was suprised not to find it more easily. it smells of etymological bias of the most rank kind. does any one have any background on this term? thanks, mj
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Re: PEW !! whats that??

Post by Berale » Tue Jun 24, 2008 12:48 am

Are you sure you're not thinking of "pooh"? (My apologies to the bear, of whom I am very fond, and have therefore been very careful not to capitalise the word in this context.)
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Re: PEW !! whats that??

Post by trolley » Tue Jun 24, 2008 12:53 am

It's gotta be related to "phew", which can be an exclamation of relief or disgust.
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Re: PEW !! whats that??

Post by mj99a » Tue Jun 24, 2008 1:22 am

i found this nugget on a sight called "mindlesscrap.com" no kidding. mj

There's a lot of arguing going on amongst linguistics experts about the origin of this word (if that's what you call it). The first thing to know is that nobody really knows how to spell it since P.U. isn't an abbreviation of anything. Here are the two explanations I heard the most (and believe me, asking a bunch of people what the origin of P.U. was a hell of a way to start off a conversation).
1) It's a shortened term for puteo, which is Latin for "to stink, be redolent, or smell bad." I actually called a professor of Latin at the University of Florida to verify this one.

2) It's actually spelled "piu," but is often pronounced as "pee-yew". It's root is the Indo-European word "pu," meaning to rot or decay. A lot of other languages use this root word and have the same general meaning.
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Re: PEW !! whats that??

Post by Bobinwales » Tue Jun 24, 2008 9:41 am

Surely it is PHEW, and it is an onomatopoeia, nothing more.
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Re: PEW !! whats that??

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Jun 24, 2008 6:49 pm

mj (a.k.a. Michael), The word PEW! has been around a bit more than decades (see below). And, I have the feeling that your nugget, although interesting, may have something in common with the name of the site from whence it comes, but one never knows. My feeling is the same as Bob’s. I think that it's probably nothing more than onomatopoeia.

MERRIAM-WEBSTER’S UNABRIDGED DICTIONARY

PEW! interjection: Used to express contempt or disgust (as at an odor). A sound made by blowing or whistling through rounded lips, often with the tongue moving from the front to the back of the mouth in the process. [Origin unknown]
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OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY

PEW! ‘phew,’ interjection [1604]: Expressing contempt, disgust, or derision. Cf. ‘pooh’ interjection, ‘phew,’ interjection. [[Imitative. Compare slightly earlier ‘pew waw’ interjection and discussion s.v. Compare also ‘pooh’ interjection, ‘phew,’ interjection]]

POOH interjection: 1) [1600] Expressing impatience, contempt, disdain, etc. 2) [1859] Expressing disgust at an unpleasant smell. [Imitative]

PHEW interjection [1604]: Expressing impatience, disgust, weariness, discomfort, or (now often) relief. [[Imitative, representing the action of puffing or blowing away with the lips]]

PEW WAW interjection = PEW, Obsolete, rare [1602]: [Ultimately of imitative origin; perhaps, as suggested by the form pew wew, originally a reduplication, with variation of the initial consonant, of ‘pew’ interjection (although this is first attested slightly later).
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I don’t know much about these things, but it would seem that if PEW is ‘imitative’ of a sound, one would make, as I think the OED is claiming – I assume this means ‘automatically’ or as the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary says, “A natural exclamation = pooh” – to express contempt, disgust, derision, then wouldn’t one expect it to be universal (like ‘ahchoo’ – which I think is, but don’t know for sure; it seems pretty automatic/natural to me)? If this is true, it would seem that we should find the sound and word PEW with the same meaning in other languages. Do we? I don’t know. Any speakers of other languages use the same PEW?

Also, the only dictionary I found which gave an etymology for PEW! as a reaction to a bad smell besides the OED was Wiktionary (see pew), which in this instance I’m having trouble believing. The author cites a 1967 Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. And while the definition and etymology of PEW, the church bench, agrees pretty much with my 1998 tenth edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, there is no mention of the exclamation/interjection reaction to an odor or other expression of dissatisfaction. It’s my guess that the Wikitionary author manufactured the second etymology, which is not to say that it could not be true, and slipped it in as a personal guess while providing the reference that made it appear that it came from a legitimate source. If anyone out there happens to have the cited reference, I’d be interested in hearing what it actually said.

My personal opinion is that the expression is of Chinese origin based on that very old Confucius saying (maybe the first joke I ever heard): ‘He who fart in church sit in own pew.’ Sorry! (>:)
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Ken G - June 24, 2008
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Re: PEW !! whats that??

Post by trolley » Tue Jun 24, 2008 7:03 pm

I think it is more likely that it was “phew”. I have some ideas (without any evidence). The word that M.J. is referring to is very commonly used in North America. It is pronounced without the “F” sound that ph usually indicates. When I pronounce the word “phew”, there is a hint (just a threat) of the p sound at the beginning. The lips start together, there is a slight pressure build-up and then a release of air between the upper teeth and the bottom lip. “Pfew” is a closer representation of this sound. If you exaggerate the P, the F becomes less noticeable and you end up with the sound “pew” or “peew” or “peyou”. If, for emphasis, you pronounce it as two syllables, it’s a short leap to P.U., which looks like an acronym. Pungent and unpleasant, eh what?
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Re: PEW !! whats that??

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Jun 24, 2008 8:16 pm

John, The AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY defines the interjection and provides a pronunciation:

PHEW: Used to express relief, fatigue, surprise, or disgust. Pronunciation – FYOO
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RANDOM HOUSE WEBSTER'S UNABRIDGED DICTIONARY provides 2 additional pronunciations:

PHEW: Used as an exclamation to express disgust, exhaustion, surprise, impatience, relief, etc. Phew, it's hot! Pronunciation – FYOO, PFYOO, and WHYOO.

I just tested myself and I seem to use the WHYOO for relief, ‘Phew! It’s finally over’; exhaustion, ‘Phew! Am I ever pooped’; and for the OED’s discomfort, ‘Phew, it's hot!' But I don’t think I’d use it for surprise or the OED’s impatience or disgust.

And I do agree with you, that if I were forced to make a bet, I'd probably have to go with PHEW! as the most likely origin of PEW (disgust at a smell).
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Ken – June 24, 2008
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Re: PEW !! whats that??

Post by Berale » Sat Jun 28, 2008 1:08 am

Ken Greenwald wrote: I don’t know much about these things, but it would seem that if PEW is ‘imitative’ of a sound, one would make, as I think the OED is claiming – I assume this means ‘automatically’ or as the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary says, “A natural exclamation = pooh” – to express contempt, disgust, derision, then wouldn’t one expect it to be universal (like ‘ahchoo’ – which I think is, but don’t know for sure; it seems pretty automatic/natural to me)?
Ken, 'ahchoo' is not universal, in Israel when we sneeze we say 'ahp-chi'.
As for the 'pooh' sound, we say 'pfui' to indicate disgust.

(And somehow I have the feeling we've been here before, but have just tried a search on 'pfui' and haven't unearthed anything. Ho hum. My senility may be getting worse. Now what did I come in here for?)
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