Writing for Business

Jan 14 2013   9:26PM GMT

Wow! That word is older than you’d think.

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

How old would you guess the word “wow” to be?
a. 100 years old
b. 200 years old
c. 300 years old
d. 400 years old
e. 500 years old

Answer: e.

I’d have been apt to guess maybe the 1920s, myself, until I saw the Grammarphobia post about it today. It’s one of those words that sounds like it could be an antique but is still in common use across diverse cultures and age groups to express amazement, whether frank or sarcastic.

From Grammarphobia:

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the usage in its early sense this way: “An exclamation, variously expressing aversion, surprise or admiration, sorrow or commiseration, or mere asseveration.” Touches all the bases, doesn’t it?

The first published reference in the OED is from Gavin Douglas’s 1513 translation of Virgil’s Aeneid: “Out on thir wanderand spiritis, wow! thow cryis.”

The OED covers the use of “wow” as a noun and an adjective. I don’t see that use myself, only as an interjection and, less commonly, as a verb. The OED guesses that “wow” derives from the Scottish interjection “I vow,” which would, I guess, have been along the lines of “I say!” Now there’s an expression that begins to sound antique. Nevertheless, these five hundred years later, “wow” is still useful.

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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