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I have a dialogue like this:

"All I wanted to do was to keep a low profile"

"Pffft. That worked well, we not only have the entire police force but also the entire mafia chasing us"

I don't want to have the "pffft" written out in dialogue, so I'm looking for a verb to replace it with. "Making a sigh of disapproval" seems to be a good description, but just doesn't have the same impact.

Is there a good verb for this?

Edit: To clarify, the intended emotion is a mixture of sarcasm, disapproval, annoyance and resignation. It doesn't have to exactly be equal to "pffft", but it needs to convey the same meaning, with the same strong impact.

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  • 4
    "Rasping" makes me think of a smokers wheeze and gravely voice Nov 7, 2011 at 8:31
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    @Urbycoz, did you mean raspberrying? Or, "Blew a raspberry."
    – mkennedy
    Nov 7, 2011 at 10:28
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    @Urbycoz - Close. The word you are thinking of I believe is "Razzing". See my answer.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 7, 2011 at 14:44
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    Perhaps "huffed impatiently"? That doesn't have the exact meaning, but conveys the same impression.
    – Jack V.
    Nov 7, 2011 at 16:58
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    It's simply onomatopoeia.
    – zzzzBov
    Nov 7, 2011 at 21:30

10 Answers 10

30

I don't believe there is an actual verb that describes this particular action. However, I can suggest some alternative words that might convey the sentiment expressed by the noise.

I think to scoff is a good option here. It makes me think of someone making a sarcastic snort, which is pretty much what "Pfft" is in this context.

You might also consider to sneer, although this seems less like a sarcastic laugh and more like a nasty face to me.

And you could always use an adverb: "That worked well," he barked scornfully.

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  • -1 None of the suggestions you have are verbs for making sounds, except "barked", which is not one of your suggestions. Scoffing is not making a sound, it is expressing an attitude. A sneer is, as you point out, a facial expression.
    – jprete
    Nov 7, 2011 at 15:01
  • @jprete OP didn't ask for verb for making sound, only for a verb to replace a sound. The words I suggested are perfectly adequate for expressing the sentiment conveyed by someone making the sound "pfft."
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Nov 7, 2011 at 15:15
  • @jprete - sometimes the answer someone needs is not the answer they are expecting. The truth is there is no recognised verb that adequately describes "putting your lips together and blowing throw them to create a sound like 'pffft', which is not a raspberry, in a derisive manner." An alternate point of view of the problem is often enlightening and more useful than scrabbling for a word that isn't there. Nov 7, 2011 at 15:32
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    scoff is actually pretty decent. The intended emotion is a mixture of sarcasm, disapproval, annoyance and resignation. I don't know what the usual rules for English.SE are, I'm just happy for any suggestion that helps me find a word, and scoff would certainly work. Clarified my question. I'll see what other answers come in before picking one. Nov 7, 2011 at 17:45
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    Dismissal is also in there
    – bobobobo
    Nov 7, 2011 at 18:03
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If you ask me, "pfft" is what he/she says, and it seems to convey the meaning directly to anyone who understands that sound. I'd be inclined to consider "Pfft" a word, on that basis. So, if it's a word, and your character says it, why not include it in the dialogue?

Otherwise, you're left describing part of that the character says, then including the rest of the dialogue

John puffed, then said "That worked well, we not only have the entire police force but also the entire mafia chasing us"

Or else implying that she may have said something like that, or maybe not

"That worked well, we not only have the entire police force but also the entire mafia chasing us," scoffed Kitḫ.

The second sentence works fine, and isn't clumsy, or wrong, but if you intend to convey that your character said "pfft" then I think you should write it.

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  • I think "puffed" is closest to the name for this sound. Nov 7, 2011 at 15:26
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    @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner, I agree, and yet I think it's also almost totally inappropriate to write it that way, because it doesn't really convey that meaning to me. "puffing" can mean lots of things and "scorn" or "sarcasm" aren't really the first things that come to my mind. Nov 7, 2011 at 15:34
  • I think in this case it works well, as I imagine the speaker actually making a puffing noise, which would be spelled as "pffft". I know people who make such a noise when they are expressing a sarcastic attitude (I admit I do it myself sometimes), so I don't think it's all that inappropriate. If it said that the speaker scoffed, I'd probably imagine a short, sharp "hah!" noise, or maybe a quick snort. Nov 7, 2011 at 15:41
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    Maybe if we qualify the puffed —John puffed derisively, etc. But I agree that just writing "pfft" is fine.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Nov 7, 2011 at 17:19
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I think the best verb for pfft is snort:

  1. The sound made by exhaling or inhaling roughly through the nose.

This gets across the appropriate sarcasm, as well as describing the sounds made:

"All I wanted to do was to keep a low profile," Mary said.
John snorted. "That worked well. We have not only the entire police force, but also the entire mafia chasing us."

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    I think that a "snort" noise is usually made by the nose. A "pffft" noise is usually made by blowing air through somewhat loose lips (I just tried it a few times, and now my coworker asked me "what's the matter?" ;) ), so I think it would be better described as a "puffing" noise. Nov 7, 2011 at 15:59
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I think of this as a chuff. I'm not sure if it's typically applied to people, but steam engines do it and so do big cats.

It's possible there are alternative meanings in slang that won't be desirable, but when aren't there such alternatives?

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If I understand you correctly, the verb you're looking for may be to sniff. One of the possible meanings of this verb is:

(intransitive) To regard something in a contemptuous or dismissive manner: The critics sniffed at the adaptation of the novel to film.

(transitive) To utter in a contemptuous or haughty manner: The countess sniffed her disapproval.

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  • Sniffing is inhaling through the nose. As 5arx says in a comment to another answer, "a 'pffffttt' is made by forcing air through a (dry) lower lip and front teeth." Nov 21, 2011 at 22:12
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That sound does not correspond to any particular exact word. There is no word to describe that exact mouth gesture. And the emotion expressed is not particularly well-defined.

A heavy out breathing of resignation is called directly a 'sigh'.

A dental click of disapproval has 'tsk' or 'tut'.

A bilabial trill, for an active provocation (like for a trumpet) is called a Bronx cheer, raspberry, or razz.

But 'pfft' (a labio-dental affricate?) does not have such an accepted vocabulary item.

However there may be words to describe sentiments often held when one performs the gesture, such as disapproval, contempt, disdain, dismissal, all somewhat synonymous.

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That sound is called a raspberry (sometimes also referred to as a "Bronx Cheer"). The act of making it is referred to a blowing a raspberry. If you need a single word-verb for it, the one I hear used occassionally is razzing.

The problem with razzing is that over the years it has come to be used more often metaphorically than literally. So if you mean it literally you might be better off using the more awkward blowing a raspberry.

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    I think a raspberry is actually spelled "Phbblt" and it's a different sound that what the OP describes.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Nov 7, 2011 at 15:28
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    Yes, a raspberry is a 'wet' sound made with by blowing air through wet lips 'blocked' by the tongue. Whereas, a 'pffffttt' is made by forcing air through a (dry) lower lip and front teeth.
    – immutabl
    Nov 7, 2011 at 15:36
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To satisfy

the intended emotion is a mixture of sarcasm, disapproval, annoyance and resignation. It doesn't have to exactly be equal to "pffft", but it needs to convey the same meaning, with the same strong impact

consider verb pooh-pooh, "To dismiss idly, with derision or contempt."

The effect would be slightly different if by mistake you substituted the homophonic noun poo-poo "(childish) poo (feces)".

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  • "Pftt" is dismissive, but not idly. And there's the fact that it's making a noise. Nov 21, 2011 at 22:22
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I know I’m late to the party, but I kind of like the usage of snort, then leaving it up to the dialogue to set the tone.

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    This answer can be improved by citing a reputable reference which upholds your claim. As it stands, your answer could be taken as a pure statement of opinion and is liable to be downvoted or deleted.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 26, 2012 at 4:08
-2

The verb is fup, past tense fupt.

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  • @Theta30 So what? In informal written contexts it's quite acceptable to turn an onomatopoeia into a verb just as クレイトン has done. And in those contexts, that spelling is fine. So long as your audience understands you, of course....
    – Pitarou
    Jan 16, 2012 at 6:18

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