Ish and Uff

In connection with my post on"evil weevils" Lydia from Writerquake over there commented with words that convey disgust.

She said: "Many Americans will say ICK! when something is sickening or yucky" .....But when I visited family in Minn. they all said ISH! Instead".

Now ISH is a word I liked immediately! I googled it and found out where it comes from:

Osomin, in "Uffda: A Word for All Reasons":

"New arrivals in Minnesota are soon struck with the state's large population of folks with Norwegian heritage. You'll recognize them immediately, when you hear the word "Uffda!" being spoken. In the supermarket, Mom drops a jar of peanut butter on the floor. "Uffda!" On the lake, a slip of the hand sends a barbed hook into a thumb. "Uffda!" A daughter asks for $80 to buy a new pair of jeans. "Uffda!"


"Uffda!" is an all-purpose exclamation. It denotes surprise, fear, anger, frustration, disgust, happiness, extreme joy, and just about anything within the range of human emotion. It's eminently suitable for all occasions, and needn't be exclusive just to folks with Norwegian heritage.

There are three variations of this expression, each with a subtle difference of meaning, too:

Uffda! -- Not too emphatic, but sufficient for most tasks. Dropping the peanut butter is a good use of this version.

Feeda! -- Somewhat more emphatic. You might use this expression if you dropped an entire case of jars of peanut butter, and they all broke.

Ishda! -- The ultimate expletive. Not to be used lightly. An example might be spilling a gallon of peanut butter-colored paint on the new, champaign-colored plush carpet you just spent $12/yd. for.

The Uff is also backed up by The Urban Dictionary .

Bernie Shellum writes in this context:

" It wasn't until I was an adult and my cool uncle was visiting that I asked him and my mother the actual difference between the two words (they talk about is and uff.) Their explanation went something like this:

MY MOM: Ish da is something that's... ishy. It's slimy, yucky. And uff da is...

MY COOL UNCLE: Uff da is ten pounds of manure in a five pound bag.

Not bad for a kid. I suppose there's something to learning a foreign language as a child after all (although I only learned one other word of Norwegian as a kid - the dreaded lutefisk). Nowadays, the explanation for the difference between the two is simple: "If you step over it, say uff da. If you step in it, say ish da."

In German, "uff" is used in the same way as uffda. Makes sense, since Norwegian is another Germanic language. But we don't use ish. Ish!


Lydia said...

First, your photo from your balcony is exquisite, Francessa! Really truly beautiful.

This post made me chuckle so much. You are so much fun! I thank you for researching ISH, which is something I never thought of doing. You solved the puzzle of the word and I think it's a fascinating background. I like ISH too, and believe that you and I will use it for one another in the future when it's an appropriate description (but I hope the occasion isn't too frequent!). :)

I have a feeling that you'll be surprised how much this post will be read as a result of Google searches. It just seems like one that needed to be written!

francessa said...


Yeah, ISH is much more funny than the other one (that consists also of SHI, plus a T) to express all kinds of disgust :-)

When I'm back from Slowenia there will be more nice photos, I hope!

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