Why do we use the word oops in a sentence or when communicating with others, if something goes wrong?

I would like to know the correct information regarding this question.

  • Do mean why specifically do English speakers use the word "oops"? Or are you asking why humans display the characteristic of speaking some word when they make or experience some kind of mistake or problem? – David Schwartz Mar 1 '14 at 10:37
  • oops = Object oriented programming stuffup. A condition that occurs when encapsulation, polymorphism inheritence and encapsulation finally fry your brain and your code destroys all the data in your database and all your backups as well (through inheritence). – user67480 Mar 1 '14 at 17:30
  • @David Schwartz, Yes, I would like to know why the english speakers using this word. – Maniprakash Chinnasamy Mar 4 '14 at 7:37
  • 4
    That isn't the word I use. – Hot Licks Dec 25 '15 at 19:28

The most convincing etymology I've heard for this informal word signaling a mistake is an alteration of upsy-daisy. Upsy-daisy was a word of reassurance, often used when a child was panicked or distressed. For example, if a child fell and hurt their leg, a nanny could pick them up and say, "upsy-daisy." I feel that the context in which the word was typically used is as much a part of the etymology as the similar sounds. If you're saying "oops," you'll likely be needing some reassurance since you've made a mistake.

Regardless of the history of the word, it's a word denoting acknowledgment of a mistake, accident.

Synonyms: uh-oh, whoops.


Oops, was I supposed to save that really important report that was just deleted?

Oops, I dropped the plate of cheese.

Oops, forgot to cite some sources ;)

  1. Chambers Concise Dictionary
  2. Zounds!
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    This is confirmed by Eric Partrige (Dictionary of Catch Phrases) upsadaisy → oops-a-daisy → oops. – Laure Mar 1 '14 at 7:31
  • And see phrases.org.uk/meanings/ups-a-daisy.html and straightdope.com/columns/read/2039/… for interesting discussions on the origins of upsy-daisy and its variants. – Martin F Mar 1 '14 at 7:42
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    Personally, I only say oops when it's not a big deal or affects someone else but not me. "Oops! I deleted an important file," is not how I would say that sentence at all. "Oops. I deleted your file," is a sentence I would say. – user39425 Mar 1 '14 at 17:00


oops- "a natural exclamation" [OED] of surprise at doing something awkward, but attested only from 1933 (cf. whoops)

where whoops is from 1925, which is from where I would think oops evolved.

  • 1
    From 'whoops-a-daisy'. (Americans say 'upsy-daisy') – WS2 Mar 1 '14 at 7:22
  • I'm pretty surprised that it seems to be such a novel innovation, given that it's so ubiquitous and that variants of it seem to have spread into most of the world's languages (see e.g. this rather incomplete list on Wiktionary). That's a pretty fast spread for a word not obviously linked to any novel technological or cultural phenomenon. – Ilmari Karonen Mar 1 '14 at 15:01
  • @IlmariKaronen Yes, good point - I suspect it's much, much older than that... perhaps there simply isn't written evidence of it for some reason. – d'alar'cop Mar 1 '14 at 15:04
  • -1 I see the first word in the title of the post is Why. So, why? – Kris Mar 2 '14 at 6:05
  • @Kris The answer's lack of explicit "why" answers the question's "why" implicitly... as with most things there is no clear "why"... We just do certain things e.g. Mama/Papa. – d'alar'cop Mar 2 '14 at 6:22

There are any number of expressions that are used in English to express dismay or surprise at something gone wrong or worse than expected. In the Southern US, for example, you might hear "Whooo boy!!" in reaction to some difficult situation or incident.

I think in a broader sense, it's that opening of the mouth in an O shape that indicates the surprise part. This may indeed go to the beginnings of our species, and I'm not being facetious. There are thousands of years of documented evidence of humans shouting "Oh!" in some form or another.

"Oops" seems like the softer, cuter variant of that, doesn't it?

  • +1, because this is the only answer that ties into why I was searching for this: English speakers say "Oops", Portuguese speakers say "Ops", Russian speakers say "ой", German speakers say "hoppla", and Japanese speakers say "ottotto". So, I was curious about the nigh-global similarities, which "oops-a-daisy" doesn't support (and, in fact, seems likely to have come from "oops" instead) – Chronocidal Jul 15 at 20:35

protected by Mitch Jan 11 '16 at 22:24

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