This really grinds my gears- It seems to be common to spell 'Doh!' (the exclamation made popular by Homer Simpson) with an apostrophe, i.e. "D'oh!" yet clearly no apostrophe is required here.

Given there is no pluralisation or ownership involved, the areas where apostrophe misuses seem to occur most often, it would seem to have sprung fully-formed, probably around the time The Simpsons arrived on the world stage.

Is this just another apostrophe usage error or is there a deeper meaning or provenance?

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    Partly it simply identifies it as a Homer "D'oh!", vs some other word spelled "doh". And I suspect that Matt Groening and company probably spelled it that way in some early print material, so it stuck.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 13:44
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    @HotLicks, Janus linked to a interesting clip on the origins oh "D'oh" below my answer. Turns out the letters "d", "o", "h", with or without apostrophe, never appeared in any Simpsons script. All scripts, from the beginning to today, give the word as an instruction: "annoyed grunt" (which has become something of an in-joke in the Simpsons community).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 13:46
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    @DanBron - However, there are several episode titles that have the word "d'oh" in them, e.g., "We're on the Road to D'oh-where".
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 14:56
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    @MarvMills: Why do you say that "clearly no apostrophe is required here"? By which standards, promulgated at which General Council? Apostrophes, being silent, and therefore provably dispensable with, don't have any proper use. All they have is inconvenient rubegoldbergian attempts to distinguish things we don't need distinguished (like they're and their, for instance; native speakers never distinguish them in speech, yet there's never any confusion in speech; only writing). Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 15:01
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    The apostrophe is in there for the exact same reason the h is in there: because no reason. We have to spell the word somehow. So you spell it "doh", I spell it "d'oh", and someone else spells it "d;eaux", and then some spellings catch on and others don't. And that's all there's to it. Any other explanation — every other explanation — is justification in hindsight. Smoke and mirrors. And coincidentally, that is how the spelling of every single word of every single language in every single writing system gets figured out. So there is really nothing at all peculiar about this particular word.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 22:21

1 Answer 1


Because there's a bit of a pause between "D" and "oh". The apostrophe represents that gap.

Mimic Homer's annoyed grunt to yourself slowly and with exaggerated motions. You'll immediately notice your tongue rising to your palate and your head moving backwards on your neck.

Now, your tongue ricochets off your palate, producing the flat, loud, toneless "D" sound; and at the same moment your head starts moving forwards, faster than it had moved backwards. When your neck is at its greatest extent, air will whoosh up out of your lungs, past your now U-shaped tongue and through your now O-shaped lips, producing the "oh".

There, did you feel that? That brief period after you'd said "D", but before you said "oh!", and your head was rushing forward on your neck, while you weren't making any sounds at all?

That was you, pronouncing " ' ".

Now sing "Doh-re-me-fah-so-lah-ti-doh", and concentrate on your process of producing those "dohs" -- the ones without apostrophes -- and note that in contrast to "d'oh", the sung "d" is tonal: you're engaging your vocal cords and exhaling the entire time, as opposed to in "d'oh" where the air comes out of your mouth all at once, at the end, in a great gust.

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    In more technical terms, the /d/ in d’oh tends to be pronounced as an ejective consonant [d’] (or possibly a creaky-voice [d̰]. Ejectives/creaky-voice consonants as a category are not found as phonemes in the English language, but as in many other languages, they are exceedingly common in interjections. See also, just for shits and giggles, Dan Castellaneta’s explanation of where d’oh originally comes from. Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 13:39
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    @JanusBahsJacquet, that was a great clip. Dan C makes the argument that it's "D-pause-oh" because a character on the Laurel and Hardy TV show had to arrest himself in the middle of saying "damn": "Da....oooohhhh!", because curing was improprietous at the time (especially on TV).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 13:43
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    There was a Laurel and Hardy TV show??
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 13:49
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    I might be able to think of a subject sillier than peeving about the "correct punctuation" of a sound effect, if I tried. But why bother? Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 15:47
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    Thanks, but there is not "a bit of a pause" between the 'D' and the 'oh' when I say it, nor this strange nodding action you speak of. There is, for sure, a change of mouth shape and air flow, however that is true between many word-parts as spoken. But my question is not about the spoken word, it is the written word. Perhaps, as seems to be alluded here, the "D'oh" spelling derives solely from The Simpsons and it has just stuck? I don't know, and that is why I asked here.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 18:13

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