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What is the origin of the word "duh" as in the interjection:

— It's hot in the desert.
— Well, duh!

If it is of onomatopoeic origin and only appears in modern English as some sites suggest, I would be interested to know when it started appearing in English writing.

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  • 2
    I remember seeing speech bubbles for Moose a few decades ago from Archie Comics that often began with "Duh!" Jul 22, 2011 at 3:34
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    The reason Moose said it so often is that he is a "low intelligence" character. I don't remember ever reading it from the Jughead though, and it's not a normal part of his character (that doesn't mean his character never used that word though). Jul 22, 2011 at 3:45
  • @Randolf - I have to post a correction for the sake of the internet. My eyes were playing a trick on me and the place where I thought it mentioned Jughead was actually a second reference to Moose. I have removed the comment above.
    – going
    Jul 22, 2011 at 3:51
  • No worries! I think your comment was fine, actually (and I encourage you to undelete it if you can). Jul 22, 2011 at 3:57
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    Just a personal note: As a child, I remember using duh for the exact reasons stated above. I feel sure I was using it when I was in the 10 to 13 year old range and I am 76 now, so that puts it in the 1947 to 1950 range for me. Of course it likely started before that.
    – user35918
    Jan 17, 2013 at 9:37

2 Answers 2

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According to Merriam Webster, duh is an interjection which has two meanings:

  1. used to express actual or feigned ignorance or stupidity
  2. used derisively to indicate that something just stated is all too obvious or self-evident

Apparently this first appeared in 1966 (per Merriam Webster). If you look at Google NGrams, "duh" has appeared even in the 1800s but a quick look at the results shows that in the early cases "duh" was used mostly as a syllable in a foreign language or as a form of "the". You can see that there is an increase over time, regardless, after 1960.

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The etymology of the interjection is, as you suggested, onomatopoeic in origin. One site, Think-Ink, devotes an entire page to the discussion of the word. One thing they mention is an etymology, from the American Heritage Dictionary:

Imitative of the utterance attributed to slow-witted people.

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  • Thanks for the answer, in many places this is quoted as the first appearance which predates the 66 date by quite a few years: "1943 Merrie Melodies (animated cartoon) in J. E. Lighter Hist. Dict. Amer. Slang (1994) I. 672/1 Duh... Well, he can't outsmart me, 'cause I'm a moron."
    – going
    Jul 22, 2011 at 4:26
  • Also the Archie character Moose has been around at least since 1949.
    – going
    Jul 22, 2011 at 4:26
  • I wonder if duh as used to imitate slow-witted folk was just a variation of the hesitant uh, which can be used similarly?
    – user13141
    Oct 9, 2011 at 9:01
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The OED's says it's origin is imitative and gives a first quotation from a 1943 Merrie Melodies cartoon (as documented in J. E. Lighter's Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1994)):

Duh... Well, he can't outsmart me, 'cause I'm a moron.

Checking further, the cartoon is Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk starring Bugs Bunny, and the quote is from the giant. Here's some more dialogue from IMDb:

Bugs Bunny: [Nervously] Eh, what's up doc?
Giant: Duh, caught ya choppin' up my victory garden, huh?, Well don't try nuttin' funny cuz I got ya covered! [Pulls out a gun]
Bugs Bunny: [to the Giant] Hey come here Gulliver!, I want to tell you something, come here! [Giant leans over towards him]
Giant: [Bugs takes off his glove and slaps him with it] Duh, duh now why did you wanna go and do that for huh?
Bugs Bunny: You want to fight fair don't you? That means that I challenge you to a duel! Giant: Duh, duel? uh, oh yeah!, okay!

You can watch the cartoon on YouTube.

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