Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Most Unusual Ejaculation

If you ever see an honest-to-god verbatim transcript of someone talking, you will realize how often words are spoken in a jumbled, ungrammatical order. People interrupt themselves over and over in order to clarify, to redirect and to better convey their message. As listeners, we tend to iron out these conversational bumps and turn the string of words into a something intelligible, more or less mentally “fixing it in post.” Even then, however, there are certain words designed specifically to stop a sentence’s flow, and I realized today that I’d never written about these parts of speech. So, then, here is strangest English interjection I could find.
ochanee (something like ə-HAH-nee or ə-HOH-nee or eck-AH-nee, depending on whether you’re English, Irish or American) — interjection: an expression of great sorrow.
I found this one on Ben Schott’s Daily Lexeme feature over at the New York Times. Schott notes that the word is a variation of the better-known but still-pretty-rare ochone (pronounced “əh-KHON”), meaning about the same as ochanee. Can I use this strange and wonderful word in a sentence? Why yes, I can! Or, rather, the Schott-cited A.F. Irvine can: “Ay, dearie, I know rightly we’ll meet, but ochanee, it’ll be out there beyond th’ meadows an’ th’ clouds.”

According to the OED, the word basically means “oh dear me,” but this word is so different from the type of American interjections I’m used to hearing — the top three being donchaknow, va-va-va-voom and yes-indeedio — that I can’t imagine it completely stealing focus from every other part of the sentence and only elicited the response, “What the hell did you just say?” It actually reminds me a lot of a word I had to know back when I studied Latin, eheu, an interjection similarly used to express woe but which also strikes my ears as hopelessly weird-sounding. Ochanee! What a loss!

Some quick, interjection-related trivia that I picked up while writing this post: The Irish begorra is just a minced version of by God. I was reminded that common swears in ancient Rome were gender-based, with women crying out ecastor (literally “by Castor!” in reference two one half of the Gemini) and men crying out edepol (literally “by Pollux!” in references to Castor’s twin). And as if you needed another reason to think Cockney rhyming slang was the stupidest invention ever, there’s an entry at Wiktionary for I should cocoa, which is Cockney rhyme for “I should say so.” Only, you know, cuter. And far, far stupider.

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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  1. The British word wotcher (a shortened version of what cheer) seems similar to these words...

  2. Oh, good one there. I don't think I've noticed this word before. Maybe when I next need a "W" word...