Friday, December 29, 2006

"Ack, Argh..." *sigh*

While I was doing my reading for Wyrdsmiths yesterday, I tripped over a character saying "Ack, this paper is ripping." (paraphrased)

The interjection "Ack" just bounced me. I don't know anyone who says "Ack," though I recognize that it is a commonly used espression of grumble or difficulty. Similarly, "Argh", "Urg", "Er", "Uh", "Ah", etc., some of which bounce me more than others.

The things is, I can see the reason for the writer to want to have a tool like this at his/her disposal. This is closer to onomatopoeia for the expressive grunts that we make than anything else (though I know some would argue that point), and I don't think the abstraction of "He sighed/grunted/growled" is quite as effective. I can see a distinction between I lifted the rock, grunting and "Ungh, this thing is freaking heavy!"

But if I'm getting bounced from the story because of it, then either A)it is not being used effectively, B)it isn't the right choice of onomatopoeic interjective expression, or C)it is one with which I am unfamiliar enough to make me stop and think "How exactly would that be said? And why would they say 'Urg' instead of 'Uuh' or 'Eew'?"

How do these expresions function for you, as a writer or as a reader? Why do we persist in using them? What do they bring to the table, as a tool, that overweighs the possibility of bouncing a reader--however momentarily? And if you don't use them, why not and what do you do instead?


Kelly McCullough said...

You missed D. you as a reader are hung up on non-word vocal expostulations.

All readers have quirks, just as all writers have quirks. There are things that bounce me instantaeouly out of a story that I'm sure don't bother most other people. Most of them are generally accepted usages that violate grammatical rules I learned years ago.

So, for me the acks and urghs don't have any impact in written works, but man do they drive me crazy in public speaking, even when they're intentional.

Anonymous said...

I'll grant the point, except that--as I noted--there are interjections that I have little or no trouble with. "Ah", for instance, is to me a sound of refreshment, or, in the case of "Ah ha!", an explostulation of recognition/identification/realization/discovery. "Argh" is disgruntlement, and "Um" is clearly pausing to process something that has been said or stalling for time. It's when the interjection seems more akin to a cat coughing up a hairball or the sounds of blood caught in the throat that I am given pause. I'll admit, toa degree, that I always process these sounds verbally, and that I'm trying to figure out what someone means by them when they say them--what are they trying to express. It's when that expression doesn't seem to match up with its context that I get bounced the most.

Kelly McCullough said...

Maybe then it has to do with the different ways people use verbal non-word cues.

There are all sorts of words that we use that have agreed upon and dictionary-defined meanings that can still be confusing because different people can mean very differnt things when they use them.

With undefined sounds like argh, those differences in meaning are likely to be amplified. For me, "argh", which I do use in day-to-day speech, is an expression of exasperation with undertones of irony and self-referential humor. For someone else it could easily be a cry of true pain, or existential distress, or even an expression of enthusiasm while charging into battle.

Kelly Swails said...

These expressions don't bother me as a reader--in fact, I usually like them--and as a writer I generally don't use them. Maybe it bounced you Sean, because it didn't match up with the voice of the piece. For example, in chick lit a character saying, "Ewww, gross" would be expected. In a Robert Ludlum espionage thriller, not so much.

Anonymous said...

Even since I got little parrots, er, kids, I use Ack... I use it a lot :D

tate hallaway said...

I tend to like Ack, Argh, etc. when I read them, and I do use them when I write. I think that Kelly X has a profound point. I tend to bounce from them in the written word when they don't match the tone (or expected reponse?). Her example being a perfect one. "Argh, foiled again!" being another. But, "Argh! Gross!" and "Eeew, foiled again," might bounce me more than the above.

Anonymous said...

I say "Ack!" all the time as a code for "Urgent action required!" I'd say "Ack!" if a pile of paper had just started falling to the floor, but not if it had already fallen. In the case of the paper ripping, it would need to be paper that was continuing to rip and I had to stop the ripping RIGHT NOW.

I usually associate it with minor stuff, like falling paper. Not sure what I'd use for an *important* disaster.

A comma after it just doesn't cut it, it's an isolated sound. Exclamation point all the way.

Your mileage may vary.