"Wow!" in other languages

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serbianfan

Senior Member
British English
"Wow!" is an interesting exclamation that has become extremely popular in English, and, it seems, other languages too. Until about the year 1990 (?) I never heard it in British English. It seems to have filled a void - although we have long had exclamations like "Gosh!" and "Oooh!" (as Peppa Pig says), we didn't really have such a forceful and usually positive one. And I have the impression that it has filled a void in other languages too, e.g. "Wow, das ist klasse!" I wonder whether speakers of e.g. Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, etc. etc. have begun to use "Wow!" in their own language or whether they already have a word that is used in the same way.
 
  • Stoggler

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Until about the year 1990 (?) I never heard it in British English.
    That must be worthy of a “wow!”

    One’s memory of changes in language can be iffy, but “wow” always seems to have been around as long as I can remember (well before c.1990). Be interested to know that if it is a recent change though.
     

    Stoggler

    Senior Member
    UK English
    That must be worthy of a “wow!”

    One’s memory of changes in language can be iffy, but “wow” always seems to have been around as long as I can remember (well before c.1990). Be interested to know that if it is a recent change though.
    There could be something in what you say serbianfan

    Popularity seems to have been rising since the 60s, but it took in more recent times. Well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs! :D
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    I probably should have said, "I don't remember hearing it in British English" (NB: I have lived abroad almost all my life since 1974). However, if you search for "wow" + "meaning" and then click on "translations and more definitions" you get a graph showing usage over time, which fits in pretty well with my feeling of before/after c. 1990.
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    Yes, I now see your graph is pretty similar. Seems the big change happened soon after the year 2000.
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    Although I'm a native speaker of British English, I've lived abroad since Wow! invaded the English language, and I feel I haven't quite grasped how to use it yet. I remember in the early days of Wow's rise in popularity, I said Wow! about something negative, and someone said something like "Wow? You say Wow about good things, not bad things". So that has kind of coloured my view of Wow, although I have heard it used about negative things. So I have a question for native speakers who aren't expats: Would you (or "many people") say "Wow! 500 Covid deaths last week in my home town!". To me, it seems better to say "Oh my God! 500 Covid deaths last week in my home town!" but on the other hand "Wow! Israel has vaccinated 25% of its population already!"
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    In Russian there's that slangish "вау" (váu), a recent loan from English, which normally expresses a strong positive surprise. The closest native expressions are "ого" (ohó, ogó) and the more expressive, although somewhat childish, "ух ты" (úkh ty, literally "ukh you", with the 2p.sg. pronoun serving as a kind of expressive communicative marker).
     
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    Rallino

    Moderatoúrkos
    Turkish
    In Turkish oha! could work in informal settings. But that's not necessarily positive.

    An interjection showing amazement could be vay! which is often coupled with other words: vay be! or vay anasını!
     
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    Sowka

    Forera und Moderatorin
    German, Northern Germany
    In German, "wow" is used today.

    When I feel a little more traditional, I say: "Uiii!", as we used to do a few decades ago. ;)
     

    Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    In Hungarian, it could be húha!/tyű(ha)!/ejha!/! (etc.) but I don't think they are used very often anymore - at least by the young.
    However, you could hear the wow-equivalent vau.
     

    danel32

    Senior Member
    Estonian - Estonia
    In Estonian it could be "vau", and have been long time in use.
    It is in use to express surprise, both in positive as much as in negative context.
     
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    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    Russian has another term worth mentioning: вах (vax). It's of Georgian, Caucasian and such origin and in some uses best corresponds to the properly Russian expression of excitement ух (ux) that's been briefly mentioned already; however it can also be a more generic interjection, closer to the English excited "oh". It's normally used ironically (as are many things in Russian) by those who aren't of Caucasian descent (not in the American meaning "white"). The reason I mention it is that it might be of quite vintage stock, with close parallels in the Latin vah and Ancient Greek οὐά; and could further be related to the various woe, vae, vey and vay's of Europe and western Asia. Another curious fact is that in terms of historical phonetics, the English wow perfectly matches to the Russian увы́ (uvý) "alas", both < *(u)wū - compare also the cheering "woo-hoo" and the crying "boo-hoo".
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    There could be something in what you say serbianfan

    Popularity seems to have been rising since the 60s, but it took in more recent times. Well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs! :D
    If you change British English to American English the graph looks about the same. It just took off about 5 years earlier.

    I think it can be used in negative contexts too. Wow, so many people have died from Covid-19
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    Yes, the kind of negative contexts that don't directly affect you personally. But I don't think anyone would say "Wow!" if their friend said: "I just heard that my mother has died".
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English - American (U.S. - New England)
    Might have to double check this, but I think in Latin, one would have said "eho!" as an exclamation of surprise or wonder, corresponding to English "wow!"
     
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    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    Can't relate to Golly, sorry. Nobody said that when I grew up in the UK of the sixties. But my Mum often said Gosh about both good and bad things. I don't think it's too old-fashioned (yet) :)
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Amai! is used extensively in French and Belgian Dutch.
    Wajo! is also used in Dutch. It's a loanword from (Moroccan) Arabic.
    But "waaw" is quite common as well, isn't it? The only thing is how to spell it? We seem to copy the English spelling but that is not so logical: -ow in Dutch and English are pronounced differently. I think "waaw" ("waw") comes closest... No?
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    But "waaw" is quite common as well, isn't it? The only thing is how to spell it? We seem to copy the English spelling but that is not so logical: -ow in Dutch and English are pronounced differently. I think "waaw" ("waw") comes closest... No?
    It is always spelled "Wauw" in books. In online chat it is sometimes spelled "Wow", but I would argue that's a different word. Then the diphthong is pronounced /ɔu/ instead of /ɑu/. Although for some (a lot of?) Flemish accents, /ɑu/ is already pronounced [ɔu], so in those accents there is no difference between wauw and wow.

    Wauw and wow are both loanwords from English.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Is it a diphthong??? I'd prefer "Waaw" as for me, i.e., Dutch spelling of the English pronunciation, because that is how I pronounce it. But I know that you can hear "Wauw" with some people and "Wow" ('short' o) in West Flanders! ;-)
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    I take back what I said. I wouldn't call "Wow!" a loanword from English. It originally meant "Slow down!" or "Relax!" or something like that. Alternatives: "Ho!", "How zeg!", "How!", "Howowow!", "Wowowow!". Nowadays this word also can be used as a synonym for "Wauw!" and that second meaning is indeed loaned from English. Does that make sense?

    Either that or it originated from West-Flanders as the West-Flemish pronunciation of "Wauw!".

    In both situations it ultimately comes from English, so maybe I am nitpicking here.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    But are we not mixing up things?
    - When ordering my horse to stop, I call "Ho" (or "Hoho" around Xmas time ;-)). I would not try to make my horse stop by saying "Wow!" It might be galopping away instead if I pronounce that the American way... ;-)
    - I checked at etymonline.com and there "wow" is said to be Scottish, originally, not more, and has always referred to amazement.
    Looking forward...
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    - When ordering my horse to stop, I call "Ho" (or "Hoho" around Xmas time ;-)). I would not try to make my horse stop by saying "Wow!" It might be galopping away instead if I pronounce that the American way... ;-)
    Okay, not to a horse, but to humans.
    "Wowowow, rustig, rustig."
    "Wow, kalm aan eh."

    Maybe this is typically Brabantian. My uncle is called Johan but everyone says Jewan.
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Huuuh??? And how might Dutch have received an Arabic loan word, other than, I suppose, from Spanish during the Spanish rule of the Netherlands?
    Due to the many immigrants in the Netherlands and Flanders, many of which were sent here to work in our mines. Another common Moroccan word in (Belgian?) Dutch is "ewa" ja. Moroccan words tend to be slang, but some are used very frequently, even by people without Moroccan relatives.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I have not heard "wajo" yet, but I did hear my uncle in this region say "Ju" and "Ho" to the horses. I am fairly sure of that, even if the horse had been called 'Johan" and was pronounced as "Jowané, as is often the case here! ;-).
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    I have not heard "wajo" yet, but I did hear my uncle in this region say "Ju" and "Ho" to the horses. I am fairly sure of that, even if the horse had been called 'Johan" and was pronounced as "Jowané, as is often the case here! ;-).
    I don't think your generation uses any Moroccan words :)
     
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