"Become aware what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it and give birth to it." - Meister Eckhart

27 April 2015

Day 23 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: W is for Wow!

W is for Wow!

I've lived in Scotland for nearly 30 years and in that time I've learned a lot about the contribution that the Scots have made to the world in the fields of engineering, chemistry, geology, medicine, education, philosophy, music, and poetry to name a few. (They've also contributed Irn-Bru, Jimmy hats, and the bagpipes.)

But I had no idea until today, that they were responsible for adding one of the most common exclamations in the English language -- the simple expression "Wow!" (with or without exclamation mark). Like wow, can you believe it?!

According to Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman of "Grammarphobia", the word "Wow" first shows up in 1513 (pre-Shakespeare) in Gavin Douglas's translation of Virgil's Aeneid in the sentence “Out on thir wanderand spiritis, wow! thow cryis.” Douglas, by the way, was a Scottish bishop and bard (a storyteller and poet) and you can learn more about him here. He was born in about 1474 at Tantallon Castle, perched on the East Lothian cliffs near North Berwick, overlooking the North Sea (I've been there many times when my boys were young--highly recommended).

O'Conner and Kellerman explain that "wow" was likely a shortened form of the interjection "I vow" and that by the 1800s it was pretty much in common use throughout Britain. It's popularity has waxed and waned but it rose again to popularity in the Victoria era as a word to express wonder or admiration. In the 1920s it exploded into a noun (as in a great success), an adjective (exciting, delightful), a verb (she wowed the audience) and even into the hyphenated, excited "wow-ee". However, by the 1960s and 70s it was being used rather ironically--even sarcastically-- as in "like wow, that was exciting" or the understated "wow, man, that's far out".

Nevertheless, "Wow" has survived into the 21st century and is one of those timeless words that I expect it to survive a few more centuries yet. In fact, I suspect that when those first men and women land on Mars, more than one of them will exlaim, "Wow!"

So the next time you catch yourself saying "Wow!" (say, at the premiere of the upcoming "Star Wars" film), blame or praise the Scots (thank you Bishop Douglas) as you deem appropriate.

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