Word of the Day Ooh Ah: The Sounds Between Words

These two vowel sounds make for an appreciative exclamation, but also have a role in pep rallies for politicians with high aspirations.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

Sometimes it’s the little things – the exclamations, the sounds between words – that can be most evocative of a language.

Show off your most sparkly dress (the one you can see in the dark) or announce your upcoming trip to Antarctica (in the winter!) and you might elicit a response that’s sort of like an appreciative whistle put into two vowel sounds: Ooh ah!

This isn’t Al Pacino’s abrupt “hoo-ah,” though. It has a more extended rhythm, with the elongated ooh merging into the ah for a reaction that sounds more like oo-oo-WA!

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The double vowel sounds also work well with another phrase – mi ze ba (literally “Who’s coming?” or “Who’s there?”) – and they are sometimes paired together in chants at rallies and, well, wherever else people chant things.

Israeli protesters demonstrating against the limited benefits that accrue to contract workers can be seen in a YouTube video posted in 2011 chanting “Ooh! Ah! Mi ze ba! Medinat harevaha!” (Ooh! Ah! Who’s there? The welfare state!).

The chant reflects what the protesters want rather than what actually exists, much as supporters of Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid chanted “Ooh! Ah! Mi ze ba! Rosh hamemshala haba!” – “Ooh ah! Who’s there? The next prime minister!” – after Lapid, now the finance minister, was voted into the Knesset last year.

If Lapid shows off his most sparkly dress on his next trip to Antarctica, you can be pretty sure someone out there will be breaking out a couple of useful vowel sounds.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.



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