Monday, April 18, 2005

Three-Letter Words

People who know me as a writer have noticed that I have this annoying habit of making up my own words. What amuses me, however, isn't the fact that I certainly do make up my own words, but rather the fact that I sometimes use real words that people accuse me of making up.

If you think that I'm just being some random oik about this, then you can find some other poor sot's blog to read. Feh.

I think I picked up "oik" from Terry Pratchett, probably from one of his Rincewind novels. Pratchett used it to describe a person you wouldn't lend money to, and I can only find a single online reference for it, which describes "oik" as "(British slang): a disparaging term for someone regarded as inferior".

I don't know why I use "oik", really. Maybe it just rolls off the tongue so well. Maybe the nature of the word is such that you immediately know that it's a somewhat derogatory term. Maybe the word just sounds so funny that you can't help but laugh despite the fact that it's technically an insult.

"Sot", on the other hand, I learned from Scrabble. I've lost more than a few viable slots on the board to "sot", which would eventually turn up in the dictionary to stymie my challenges. It apparently refers to an alcoholic or a drunkard, although I'm not sure if it's insulting or not. "Sot" doesn't roll off the tongue as well as "oik" does, mind you, but the beauty of the word shows when you combine it with an adjective. I like using "arrogant sot" for some reason, and I tend to lapse into the phrase "some poor sot" when I'm not paying attention.

Now "feh" - that's a more derogatory turn of phrase. I think that it's technically onomatopoeia - a word that's spoken like the sound effect it describes - because it's an exclamation that denotes an idea or concept that one thinks is beneath his or her standards. "Feh" sounds pretty much like the contemptuous release of spittle onto the nearest curb. Not that I specifically use "feh" to insult anyone, mind you - I'm more likely to say it as an expression of disgust, usually at my own ineptitude.

No, you probably won't find "feh" in your standard dictionary. Does this mean that I've lied and completely made up a word again? Well, no - "feh" can be defined in Scrabble as "a jewish coin", and although that doesn't describe the way I use it, it's good enough for me. "Feh" is still a legitimate word. :)

Odd, though, that the three three-letter words that came to mind here are all derogatory turns of phrase in one way or another. At least now I can see why people refer to the unmentionable realms of literal profanity as "four-letter words".

It's remarkably minimalist, in a way. It just goes to show you that you don't need as many as four letters to show someone or something exactly how you feel.



Stephen McMullin said...

'Oik' generally refers to a peasant or other uncultured and uneducated types. It's sort of the opposite to a toff. So a toff would be likely to say, "Jeeves, get my Winchester, I'm going to shoot those oiks off my lawn."

'Sot', on the other hand, is generally used to describe a drunkard or alcoholic. I don't think the term 'arrogant sot' can be used, because it implies that they are pathetic. Other terms which come to mind are 'lush', 'pisshead', 'alco', etc.

Sorry about bending your ear, but I just felt I had to comment. 'Feh' I can't comment on. I personally prefer 'bleh' as a noise.


Sean said...

Geez, I didn't expect to get comments on this one. How in the world did you find me, Stephen?

I think my use of "arrogant sot" is derivative of "arrogant snot", which I think is a more common derogatory phrase. I'm probably just too lazy to pronounce the "n", or something.

While I've heard of the term "toff", it hasn't entered into everyday conversation for some reason. At this point, I'm guessing that Scrabble has more to do with these three-letter words than anything else; In that case, I probably don't use "toff" because I seldom get two Fs at the same time. :)

What I find really strange, though, is that I'm reaching for these kinds of expression when I'm obviously confined to the Philippine archipelago. The world's just all that smaller, eh?



I'm Spanish and could by no means find the meaning of the word "oik". Now, thanks to your blog I know it is slang expression for "stupid" person or someone you consider "inferior". I'm very grateful. You do a very interesting and profitable work.

I found the word when reading "A short history of London", whose author's name I can't remember just now.

Sean said...

Wow. It's been almost a year, and people are still reading this?

Fernando: I'm glad that I've been of some service, although I can assure you that the work is far from profitable. :)

Anonymous said...

hey I say "feh" all of the time ;)

I was wondering where that came from anyway !


Sean said...

Shodan: I see "feh" used a lot more in webcomics for some reason now. Maybe it's becoming more popular as an expression.

And incidentally... it's been over a year since I first wrote this. How is this entry showing up on the search engines for people to keep reading it, anyway?

nanaflobbyss said...

Merry Christmas. I came across your blog by typing in scrabble "three letter words" in search for lists to boost my scrabble scores. My hubby and I play at least 5 to 6 games a week to relax and unwind. Have a happy new year!

Sean said...

Nana: Hi, Nana, and Merry Christmas to you too. Thanks for the clarification -- you've given me some closure on how people are somehow able to find and read this entry after two years. (I confess that I'm envious about your being able to play five or six times a week, though. I'm lucky if I manage to get into one game each month.)

nana said...

Glad to be able to clarify things for you! Just finished a game with hubby - he won 363 to 340 :(
There's always tomorrow. As of now, my score stands at 170 wins to 136 losses!

Sean said...

Nana: Again, more indication that I need to play more Scrabble. I can barely break 200 most of the time. :)