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What's that sound called which we make when we are irritated or disgusted, when we press both our lips together and make a sucking sound, with our teeth closed. It's similar to a kissing sound, but in that the lips move out. While here, the lips spread open like in a smile.

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    sigh, gasp, puff [one's cheeks],... Dictionaries will say some terms used for this context are "onomatopoeic", but you should take that with a pinch of salt. "Tsk!" tutted an exasperated John, even though the actual sound John made was just an "inward tongue click" - nothing like tsk or tut (which versions people sometime articulate simply because they're deriving that from the orthography rather than replicating the sound other people actually made). Jul 24, 2020 at 13:53
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    i think @FumbleFingers has got the right answer, its Tsk-tsk ot tut-tut. Jul 24, 2020 at 15:47
  • @JustTolerateMe: Pffft!, said FumbleFingers, wondering whether it would be "more onomatopoeic" if he'd used 2 or 4 r's rather than 3. Of course, you didn't hear what I said, so you don't know exactly what it sounded like. But for what it's worth, it was a sound sometimes transcribed in French as Bof! (1 f or 2, but never 3 or more! :) Jul 24, 2020 at 16:03
  • Worth noting that such sounds/gestures are quite culturally-dependent. Laughs and sighs may be universal, but tsk-tsk, uh-uh, mm-hmm, meh, or nodding or shaking your head — they can vary in style and meaning from one culture to another.
    – PLL
    Jul 25, 2020 at 9:15

7 Answers 7

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The action is called "sucking your teeth."

I don't believe there is a single-word for that sound specifically, it's just a "sucking sound."

The sucking sound of him sucking his teeth in irritation echoed in the empty room.

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  • I was watching the British TV series on Netflix, Top Boy and the close captions say over and over "kisses his teeth" for the Jamaican drug dealers doing this. But in the States, we do say sucking one's teeth. Gees, what a hoot.
    – Lambie
    Apr 8, 2022 at 17:21
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In the West Indies, this is called steups. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/steups

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you mean the what was that, how did that happen, i meant to stay quiet kinda type? That can be done on purpose, in which case it might go as "smack ones lips", perhaps in immitation of sucking, but--as comics have it--involving licking (not so in German schmecken or schmatzen).

If it would be more often associated with the (tip of the) tongue, I think of German schnalzen, onomatopoetic e.g. tsk, tse. Wiktionary translates that as

click

under ety. 1 def. 2, giving tsk specificly as example (although African languages like xoo! are better known for their click-sounds).

In my experience similar noises can come from the uvular ridge, which then sounds like a bit of a grunt, but not oinky.

In general, these are implosive, or properly: ingressive. Which is rather rare as phoneme feature (often in Finnish for a specific yes expression, and similarly in many other languages). If there's no obstruent involved, it comes out a gasp, an intake of air, huh. There are more colorful idioms to describe these, I'm sure

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    Smacking one's lips is a completely different idiom, referring to the state of being so keen one salivates, and has to lick one's lips to keep from drooling. Jul 24, 2020 at 16:06
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There is too, a word for it in Sranan: "Tjoerie"/"Tyuri" (phonetic: "Chooree"). This is the language spoken in Suriname, the largest Dutch-speaking country in the Caribbean.

To my knowledge there isn't A word for it in English, which only has a description for the action: "kissing one's teeth".

In both environments, it's considered rude to do it. Pupils get berated if they do it in front of teachers, authority figures.

It's a bit neo-colonial, thus rude, to divide the Caribbean into English-speaking, French-speaking, Dutch-speaking and Latinx, therefor we should be careful whenever we do that: always check with the persons you speak with how they feel about that. But, IF we would do it in this case, then one could say that the Anglo and the Dutch have this custom/practice, and the French-Caribbeans call it 'tchip'. Afaik the Latinx don't do it, but my knowledge is not universal.

According to this article Brazilians have it too, but that's just the sound, sort of, with an entirely different meaning.

Tjoerie or Tyuri

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Technically, I think it would be a "interdental reverse fricative" - describing it as a component of speech for communication purposes.

https://www.thefreedictionary.com/interdental

https://www.thefreedictionary.com/reverse

https://www.thefreedictionary.com/fricative

As an action, you could be describing "exasperation", but your description implies sucking the air inwardly. Perhaps this is done first to signal the "exasperation" to come. Or another possibility - someone could be SO mad that they are actively trying to suck air back in. But, that would make it an "insperation" (not a word in English). I had to check...

He was so exasperated that he had to suck in to keep from spraying his coffee all over the place...

On a side note, it IS correctly spelled using "asperation" rather than "aspiration", so perhaps there was some confusion in the origin of the word. The unrelated word "asperation" means "to make something rough".

TFD - exasperation

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When we press both our lips together and make a sucking sound, with our teeth closed.

That's called humph (or harrumph).

Humph (exclamation): a short, deep sound made with the lips closed, expressing anger or doubt, or pretended anger.

Example: Humph, I see you've got yourself some lunch and you haven't made any for the rest of us!

[Cambridge English dictionary]


The sound made by tut-tut or tsk-tsk is a Dental click. Is that what you're looking for?

The tut-tut! (British spelling, "tutting") or tsk! tsk! (American spelling, "tsking") sound used to express disapproval or pity is a dental click. [Wikipedia]


Grunt is the verb for making that sound.

Grunt (verb): (of a person) to make a short, low sound instead of speaking, usually because of anger or pain.

Examples: He hauled himself over the wall, grunting with the effort.

[+ speech] "Too tired," he grunted and sat down.

[Cambridge English dictionary]

Groan and its synonyms could also be used here.


I think that's also called wincing or hissing (or chuff, cluck or squirm, but I'm not sure about these three).

Wince (verb): to tighten the muscles of the face briefly and suddenly in a show of pain, worry, or embarrassment.

[Cambridge English dictionary]

(I've also heard don't kiss your teeth at me in British English.)

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suck teeth_West Africa

It's originally from Africa and is also Afro-Caribbean

Suck-teeth is “the gesture of drawing air through the teeth and into the mouth to produce a loud sucking sound” which is used to express “disgust, defiance, disapproval, disappointment, frustration or impatience.”

Those quotes are from Rickford & Rickford (1976) and Alim (2004) respectively (their full references are listed below).

Suck-teeth as a global Black phenomenon Suck-teeth (which I previously wrote about here) has become increasingly known outside of the Black global diaspora. In urban France, in particular, “le tchip”—as it in known in French—has become so commonplace that public schools banned it as a vulgar “gesture”. This spurred a range of media coverage, but more importantly funny responses such as this that also highlights it as Afro-Caribbean phenomenon.

Suck-teeth in West Africa. Little of this popular and academic coverage though has actually ever looked at the who, what, why and how of sucking your teeth or le tchip in Africa itself.

With this in mind, I’m proud to release a Na baro kè video from Bamako, Mali about the meaning, culture and how-to of “suruntu” as suck-teeth is known locally in Bambara/Manding: [go to link]

References Alim, H. S. (2004). You Know My Steez: An Ethnographic and Sociolinguistic Study of Styleshifting in a Black American Speech Community. Duke University Press Books.

Rickford, J. R., & Rickford, A. E. (1976). Cut-Eye and Suck-Teeth: African Words and Gestures in New World Guise. The Journal of American Folklore, 89(353), 294–30

[bolding mine]

And here is more about the Caribbean and sucking teeth: kiss or suck teeth

Written by Azizi Powell

People don't always have to say what they're thinking. Sometimes body gestures and sounds such as "kiss teeth" say what they want to say and more.

I'm an African American woman from New Jersey & Pennsylvania. Although my maternal grandparents are from the islands (Barbados and Trinidad), I wasn't familiar with the phrase "kiss teeth" until I started reading about it on the Internet. But ever since I was a child I knew about "sucking your teeth". That phrase is often expressed in the warning "Don't suck your teeth at me!"

The phrase "suck your teeth" is documented as early as 1915 in Jamaica and is also found in Barbados, Belize, and Guyana, Trinidad, and the United States (particularly among African Americans). In Tobago, kiss teeth is called "hiss teeth" and in the Cayman Islands it is called "sucking your mouth". Source: http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~patrickp/papers/KSTpapwww.pdf The Meaning Of Kiss Teeth

"Kiss" and "hiss" are onomatopoeic “[that’s the sound you make when doing it].

In the Caribbean kiss teeth is represented by the initials "KST" (kiss teeth) and "KMT" (kiss my teeth). Among people from the Caribbean, kiss teeth can be represented in writing using the words "Cho!", "Chups", "Tchuipe, "Chupes", "Stchuup”, and similarly spelled words. These words are both nouns and verbs.

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