What is it called when one expresses "Yes", "No", or "I Don't Know" without using words - just humming their response? You know, when someone responds with a low note than a high note for Yes or "Ah-huh!"; a low note and a slightly lower note for No or "Nuh-uh"; or a low note, a high note, and a low note for I don't know.


In a sentence, it's often called a grunt or murmur of assent.

A related question is How to describe making sounds with your throat?


I believe the word falls into the category of paralanguage. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/paralanguage


Wikipedia describes 'Vocables' as "utterances which are not considered words."

vocable n.

A syllable or sound without lexical or referential meaning, vocalized as part of a song or sung melody. - OED Definition 2

  • This would be an excellent answer - well explained, and links to references - but the only problem is that the OP didn't ask about all non-word utterances, they specified "humming", i.e. mm-mmm. – Chappo Oct 1 '18 at 23:25
  • @Chappo I interpreted the question to include all non-word utterances, as some of the given examples ("Ah-huh," and "Nuh-uh") are not humming. – evn Oct 5 '18 at 0:41

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