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My daughter said to me this morning (the context is irrelevant):

Er, it's all wet!

The interjection I have written here as Er was synonymous with Yuck. Its wetness did not cause great happiness.

But what's the right way to write it? The problem with the way I've formulated it above is that it looks like the Er of (genuine or mock) hesitation, synonymous with Um. In fact I think that would be as natural a reading of the sentence as the Yuck reading. This would significantly change the overall understanding, and change the response from disgust to something like confusion.

I could try Err, but I don't think that's any less ambiguous. And of course I could write Yuck, which would convey the right sense, but direct quotation ought to respect the original wording.

(I have a feeling that this is a British expression, so I'm tentatively tagging as BrE, but I'm uncertain about this. It's supported by noting that the answers to this question don't mention Er at all.)

  • American speakers would be rather confused by a spelling with 'R', as the large majority of us are rhotic speakers. – snailboat May 19 '15 at 22:15
  • @snailboat she pronounced it in a nice rhotic fashion of which most Americans would approve (admittedly only because of the initial vowel in it's). – chiastic-security May 21 '15 at 10:44
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The traditional spelling was Ugh (or sometimes Eugh!) but this may be being supplanted by the American Eww! Since the word is near-onomatopeic, I would suggest you write it the way it sounds to you when your daughter says it.

  • Thanks. Ugh is not pronounced Er, though, right? I mean, I sometimes say something that sounds like Ugh, and I sometimes say Er, but I'd want to distinguish the two. – chiastic-security Jan 4 '15 at 11:55
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    Ugh is pronounced /ʌg/ by people who don't know that word spells the sound which may be approximated as /ɜ:/ or /ɪɜ:/ or /ɪəχ/ -- for which yuck is also an approximation. – Andrew Leach Jan 4 '15 at 12:01
  • @AndrewLeach Ah, I pronounce it /əχ/, which wasn't on your list, but perhaps was included by implication. – chiastic-security Jan 4 '15 at 12:04
  • @AndrewLeach There’s also the spelling ick which isn’t so far from the others as one might think. – tchrist Jan 4 '15 at 12:56
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"Eew!" or "eww!", or "ew!", is a common expression of disgust. (AmE) "Er", is known more as an expression of uncertainty, or even, apology or regret.

So, "Er, it's all wet," would have a much different meaning to a reader in the US.

"Why aren't you wearing the new necktie I got you for the party tonight?"

"Er, it's all wet. It fell into the sink while (or basin/whilst) I was shaving."

"Here, let me see... Ew!"

  • Right, that's what I suspected. In BrE, Er (or the sound that fits that spelling, at any rate) is ambiguous between your Ew and your Er. – chiastic-security Jan 4 '15 at 14:11
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In British English, written 'ugh' is pronounced 'er'

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