Wednesday, June 14, 2017

PU, OK?

Photo by Dru Kelly, via Flickr
A spirited conversation occurred a few years ago between me, my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter, when my grandson, age 2½, came running into the room, sporting a diaper full of poop. “PU!” exclaimed everyone. (Except my grandson, who was too young to care.)

And that started us off on the question of where did the exclamation PU come from? It’s an interesting question, but it turns out that no one really knows. (Linguists actually spend their professional time arguing about this question.)

First off, no one knows how it’s even spelled. Is it pew? or P.U.? And if it’s P.U., what do the P and U stand for? Or is it an abbreviation of a longer word?

Oh, how useful is the magic Google! What did we do before the Internet and we had to simply wonder about these fascinating questions?

Unfortunately the internet wasn’t that helpful on this one. We found out that some linguists think PU is a shortened term for puteo, Latin for “to stink or smell bad.” Other linguists think its root is the Indo-European word “pu” meaning to rot or decay.

And that’s as much as we could find out. So far. Perhaps someday I will discover the definitive answer to this earth-shaking question. Writers actually spend valuable time thinking about these things. Usually when they’re experiencing a case of Writer’s Block.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit kimpearson.me.

8 comments :

  1. Poo! That's how it is spelled in most English-speaking countries. In fact I have never seen it in any other spelling!
    I have always thought that it originates in the verbal response most people give to something unpleasantly smelly. :-)

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  2. The origin of words can be a fascinating study. In this case, I have no answer, but the question does tickle the curiosity bone. A side point on this issue is common usage vs. true meaning. On a number of occasions, especially when editing a manuscript, I have checked the dictionary and found that the way I've long used a word (and heard it used by others) isn't what it literally means. What a fun post, Kim!

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  3. Hey, that's what my old boss would say when he read my copy: "PU ... what's that smell? Oh, it's coming from this page!"

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  4. Well there you go. I never would have thought to write it as the letters "PU". I probably would have gone with spelling it out and emphasising it with extraneous letters, something like "Peee-yeww!"

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  5. I've seen it spelled pheuw, but we here in Texas say it and spell it like Elle.

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  6. As Kim mentioned "puteo" is the Latin word for stink, in Italian it's puzza. Coincidence? I think not.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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