Since nobody uses it, why do we have the word “Ouch!” The sound you make when you hurt yourself?
Where did this word come from? There is no doubt, back in the mists of time,when small men with giant reproductive organs walked the earth looking for women and wearing animal skins, they made up the first words by making similar sounds to the thought they wanted to express, or the danger they wanted to communicate.
It was mostly about danger back then. There was little incentive to go to all the trouble to make up a word to say, “Pass me the saber-tooth.”
Thus, if you were a caveman and saw a dangerous snake, you told your partner“Hiss!” In other words, look out, there’s a fu.kin’ snake. Then, if you wanted your partner to hit the fu.kin’ snake over the head with a rock, you said,“Hiss, smash!”
But if your partner missed, and hit your toe with the rock instead, you said“OW!” Not ouch. That came later, when more sophisticated words were added.
Why OW? Why not “GERSH!” Or “REEP!” Or “FLINKO?”
Why did the caveman say “OW” instead of the above? Do we all have to be slaves to the sudden impulse of one caveman? I for one, resent having to use a word first thought up by a filthy, smelly Cro-Magnon with caked, dried excrement staining his backside, and chunks of un-wiped sleep in his eyes and with breath smelling of last week’s pterodactyl soufflé.
Nobody much uses either word, OW, or ouch, today anyway. When was the last time you heard someone say “ouch”? Interestingly, the word ouch has become a designer word for clever modern people who, when you suffer embarrassment, tease you by saying to you, “Ouch!”
Now, instead of OW, when you smash your toe, you say a bad word with the letter “S” (meaning a bowel movement). Or the “F” word. Hurt has been upgraded to a more vicious connotation, proving that modern man has a lower threshold of pain. He is no longer content to just say OW! Use of the F word seems to indicate a sexual link with pain, which is a fascinating topic all its own and which I will touch on later in a separate piece.
There is little doubt that back in the real old days when they used to, as we currently put it, “slay guys,” there was much more pain in daily life than today.
In the Middle Ages, your teeth were rotting out of your head and they pulled them with rusty horse-shoeing pliers. You screamed OW! You had a gangrenous leg so they hacked it off with a dull axe, plus your other arms and legs for safety, and cauterized the wounds with the fire of a branding iron, leaving you a legless, arm-less, bobbing torso. OW! If you had an ear plugged with wax, they thought it was the devil and tied a chain to your ear and the other end to a horse and had the horse bolt and rip your ear off, without anesthetic. OW!
There was no Tylenol. Life was very painful back when things were rotten.
Because of that caveman who smashed his toe, sound words are more interesting than word words. But if people had not assigned more complex wording, we would have to rely today on strictly sound-based communication.
For example, the caveman wants to tell his wife, “You did not cook the musk-ox the way I like it, singed with the hair intact for crunchiness. Go over to that festering pool of excrement and stand on your head in it until further notice.”
He wouldn’t say it that way. No. Instead, he would say, “Yuk, sizzle,pee-you, who-whee, gurgle-gurgle!”
Thus, if we were on strictly sound-based wording today, we might be able to get rid of insurance salesmen and politicians. Scientifically then, language is a timeless conflict between what we mean to say, and what we say to mean.
(Reader’s note. Marina Orlova of the website “Hot for Words”performs this script that I wrote for her. You can see it on Youtube).