“Oops, I forgot, sorry”. The spill cries oops and whoops in the history of American English


Abstract – Interjections and other elements of spoken language have always been a particularly fruitful area of historical pragmatic research. In this paper, I focus on the interjections oops and whoops that have been described as spill cries by Goffmann (1978, p. 801). They show a high level of interjectionality (Stange 2016, p. 16), that is to say, they are primarily emotive and exclamatory, they do not require an addressee and are produced semi-automatically. Oops and whoops do not have a long history. As interjections, they are first attested in the early twentieth century both in the Oxford English Dictionary and in the Corpus of Historical American English. In Present-day English, they are often associated with apologies. They co-occur with the apology IFID sorry, or they can even function as apology IFIDs in their own right. A diachronic corpus analysis, including a collocational analysis, reveals that this association has only developed over time. In the early examples, the element of surprise is foregrounded, while later examples more often display elements of dismay and regret with strong suggestions, or explicit formulations, of an apologetic intent.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v31p15

Keywords: interjections; spill cries; historical corpus pragmatics; American English; apologies


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