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"What does {holding nose} P.U. mean?" my son asked me tonight. I told him I didn't know, and he laughed and said "It means stinky, Mommy!" Very funny and well said, but it left me wondering.

A search of Wikipedia and Etymology Online came up wanting and my etymological dictionaries are packed in boxes. What does this abbreviation stand for and why does it mean stinky?

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    @Synetech Inc.: For what it's worth, I have always heard/said it with a [p] at the beginning and not an [f]. – Kosmonaut May 19 '11 at 2:23
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    According to my wife, it stands for "Daddy" (as in Daddy did it again) :) – Tim Post May 19 '11 at 6:07
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    I can believe that it's not an acronym, but I have a really hard time believing that it's a variant of "Phew!" @Tim My son used to call flatulence "Daddy", so that one gave me a good chuckle. – Kit Z. Fox May 19 '11 at 11:21
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    I'm delighted folks, as in extremely delighted that the 'upper crust' of the English language still finds flatulence a little funny. @Kit - Thanks for an awesome and entertaining question! – Tim Post May 19 '11 at 13:22
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    So far it looks to me like your kid had the best answer. – T.E.D. Jun 13 '11 at 16:17
17

One person's attempt to find an answer seen on wordwizard.com came up with two different postulations which are interestingly possible.

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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    So possibly related to putrid and putrescence? – Kit Z. Fox May 19 '11 at 11:37
  • somewhat likely o_o much moreso than pungent ;O – Garet Claborn May 19 '11 at 13:21
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I'm not 100% on this, but I don't think it's actually an abbreviation. It's possibly a way of saying "phew" that has morphed into "pee-you" or "pyoo" over time, as "phew" is often said with emphasis that makes it sound like two distinct syllables (stress on the "yew"):

"PheeeeeYEW that stinks!"

Or, to put it in another context that might sound more familiar:

"FeeYEW that was a close one!"

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/phew

used as an exclamation to express disgust, exhaustion, surprise, impatience, relief, etc.

Still, it's just a guess. I wouldn't be surprised if there was another, more accurate source.

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    I wonder if "Fee-you" is a regional difference. I have never heard it pronounced this way in relation to stinkiness, but I have heard it that way in relation to relief after exertion. – Kit Z. Fox May 19 '11 at 0:31
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    I didn't mean "Fee-you" in relation to P.U., but the way one would pronounce "phew". As in "FeeeeYOU that stinks!". Makes it sound like two syllables, and somewhat like "Pee You". Still, it's just a guess. – Wesley Murch May 19 '11 at 1:31
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    I think "phew" is a way to write a sigh of relief. The non-exaggerated way to write the sound you make in response to a stink is "pew". (The exaggerated way, naturally, is "P.U.") – Marthaª May 19 '11 at 15:28
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My boys and I decided that p.u. stood for positively unpleasant. Of course, we have no source for this, and it is likely to become a folk etymology now.

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    Tee hee! Works for me! – Marthaª Dec 21 '13 at 0:05

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