Wikipedia says alveolar clicks are found only in Africa/Australia, which isn't true at all.

For instance, there's the one usually done twice in rapid succession with the tongue against the upper side teeth/gums - to "gee up" a horse, indicate "mock-conspiratorial" agreement, etc.

So far as I know, we don't even attempt an onomatopoeic written representation of that one, but the one formed by suction against the back of the front teeth/palate is normally written as either "tut" or "tsk". Sometimes people actually say "tut" or "tut-tut" (presumably, influenced by the written form).

But I've never heard anybody say anything remotely resembling "tsk". So where does the "k" come from in that written representation?

  • 2
    Well, if they wanted to write it in the first place, they had to write something, didn't they? And exclamation point was already taken. "Tsk" has the advantage that it's unpronounceable and not confusable with any other word. Plus it starts with the same consonant as "tut", which is a vocalized version that also occurs, in print and in speech (though it sounds awfully dated now). Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 0:58
  • 1
    @Michel Keijzers: Ah! "Tsss" would make more sense to me! I take it you still apply this to the same "suction click" I'm talking about here? Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 1:59
  • 1
    I've heard people say "tisk, tisk" an "tut tut" about as often as the...um...alveolar/dental click.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 2:58
  • 1
    The other alternative to tsk and tut that I see is tch. Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 15:04
  • 1
    The Full OED has this for their 1947 "first citation": L. Pike Phonemics ii. 41/1 Do you get..a sound resembling the noise of commiseration which is sometimes written in literature as ‘tsk-tsk’, or ‘tut-tut’. Fairly obviously the implication is that it was well-established by then. Personally, I doubt the writer would have been particularly thinking of cartoons as "literature", and I don't understand why you might think this could be a credible "etymology". But if that's what you think, why not post it as an answer here, rather than asking if others agree as a new question? Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 18:39

2 Answers 2


Presumably for the same reason that dogs barking don't say "woof". "Tsk" is a phonetic sound that corresponds roughly to the tutting sound. I note that my tongue and teeth end up in roughly the same part of my mouth when I say "tsk" as when I tut, whereas saying "tut" gives a totally different mouth shape.

  • 2
    This answer reminds me of the joke where the dog says, "Was I supposed to say DiMaggio?"
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 1:25
  • haha - dogs don't say "woof" because they can't read! Whereas people sometimes say "tut" simply because they can read! Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 1:26
  • 2
    My dog does woof - and my daughter's first "word" was woof since that's what she heard said by the dog. But her second word was "mootz" for milk, so maybe I shouldn't read too much into it.
    – Julia
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 1:32

Tsk, tsk! Although I haven't been keeping score, I believe I've heard tsk uttered at least as often as I've heard tut. Maybe that's an American thing?

Side note: An Ngram analysis shows that, at least in writing, the two terms are running pretty much neck-at-neck at this juncture. (I opted to compare "tsk, tsk" with "tut, tut" - using a single utterance of each word includes many references to King Tutankhamun, thereby skewing the results).

  • I'm surprised. You really hear people saying "Tsk" in earnest? I think that must be an American thing. I suppose in more than half a lifetime I must have heard it said facetiously a few times, but in my experience when people actually mean it, it's nearly always the alveolar click itself, or very occasionally "tut". Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 1:47
  • I believe that the 'k' in 'tsk' is a stop, but I really do hear 'ts'. Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 2:31
  • 1
    @FumbleFIngers: Yes, no joke. Moreover, out of curiosity, I asked my wife, and she said the same thing - she's more likely to hear tsk than tut. (She even said, "Tut... that must be a British thing.")
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 2:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.