View OED entry

ew interjection earlier than 1978

The entry has now been updated with evidence from 1967.

The exclamation ew has become an instantly recognizable expression of disgust. Used since the late 20th century, it has continued to gain ground in the 21st, perhaps because its two-character brevity makes it so well suited for electronic communication (ew appears almost twice as often as yuck in Oxford’s Twitter corpus). That said, ew isn’t always brief: it can also be spelled euw, and the u or w is sometimes repeated four or more times for emphasis. The earliest evidence of the word found by the OED‘s researchers dates from 1978, in a reporting of children’s speech:

1978 Washington Post 8 Sept. (Weekend section) 6/1   ‘Ewwww,’ said the kids. ‘They don’t have very many manners.’

This type of utterance probably existed in oral use for some time before it was recorded, but it seems possible that it may have appeared earlier in a more informal document, such as a screenplay, novel, or even a school yearbook. Can you help us find earlier evidence of ew?

Posted by OED_Editor on 7 February 2013 15.37
Comments: 6

  • hb1616

    Surely this can be topped easily:
    Edmund Schiddel,The swing: a novel – 1975
    Maybe he didn’t know. His idea of kicks was to masturbate while watching rats having hatpins stuck through them in the next room.” “Ewww!” She winced. “Don’t tell me things like that!” “I’ll use rat stories to punish you,” he threatened playfully.

  • hb1616

    Glendon Fred Swarthout, Kathryn Swarthout,The button boat, 1969:His ears twitch. His blue eyes water. “Phweee-ewww!” he snorts. “That’s the awfullest, rottenest, powerfulest smell I ever smelt!” 

  • Bryn_OED

    Only from 1977 – in “Wally”, by Judie Wolkoff

    “I started to walk away but, he circled around in front of me “Ewww … ick” he said, scrunching up his face.”
    LoC Catalogue:

  • Bryn_OED

    Searching for the oral uses, that the OED believes occurred before written usages, throws up some interesting issues.
    In the opening song [“Food Glorious Food”] of the [1968] film “Oliver!” [about four minutes in], the fourth boy being served gruel grimaces in disgust and seems to say “Eew” – however:
    ·         is that merely a, very short, old-fashioned “Eugh!” – or a true `early’ use of “Eew”  ?
    ·         the subtitle website shows “Eeew” appearing in this film, but at 00:34 – however, [as a telephone then rings, in that transcript] it seems unlikely
    In the [1938] film “Pygmalion”, Eliza [around 00:34] looks at an intruding microphone, with disgust/disdain, and seems to say “Eeww” – however:
    ·         as this is where the film is playing with mixed-pronunciations, for comic effect, can her pronunciation be said to be, definitively, “Eeww” ?
    ·         since transcripts / subtitles might be copied [phonetically and/or edited, for screen-space] from the screen, these may not be accurate – whilst published scripts might not note every improvised exclamation made
    For a link to a, [claimed] public domain, online version of “Pygmalion”:
    Having noted the need for the same apprehension as with GoogleBooks, other references, within films & TV, that appear are:
    [1943] “Guadalcanal Diary” – “Ew!”, at 00:46
    [1957] “Kiss Them For Me” – “Ew”, at 00:17
    [1960] “The Grass Is Greener” – “Ewww!”, at 01:05
    [1973] “The Don is Dead” – “Eew”, at 00:32
    [1977] “Desperate Living” – 00:20 and 01:00 [NB: the latter, preceding a strong profanity; according to subtitle transcript]
    Via [which prompts even more apprehension]:
    [1960] “Riverboat” [TV – episode: “The Night of the Faceless Men”] – “I said … Ewww”
    [1976] “Six Million Dollar Man” [TV – episode: “Welcome Home, Jaime”] – “Ew! That’s an awful thing to do”.
    [1965) “Addams Family” [TV – episode: “Cousin Itt Visits the Addams Family”] “Uhhh, ewwwww, ewwwwwwhh” [NB: there was a 1998 remake of this episode]

  • Bryn_OED

    Wolfe, PM (1972) “Linguistic Change and the Great Vowel Shift in English”, University of California, p.163 addresses this vowel-shift; with a passage focusing on “Eww” – however, is she discussing discrete words, or merely syllables ?
    “The a spelling in Orrm normally represented /oh/, just as ae normally represented /eh/. But in the complexes aw and aew there is some possibility that /oww/ and /eww/ are better interpretations than the more obviously consistent /ohw/ and /ehw/.”

    Ritchie, JA (1975) “Adjustive and affective responses of school-aged children to a leg amputation”, University of Pittsburgh, p.54, meanwhile, seems to offer a clear usage:
    “Even the new vocabulary to which they were subjected stimulated expressions of aversion to the amputee state. Words such as stump and prosthesis evoked behaviors of repulsion such as `Ewww!’, and `It don’t sound right’.”

  • Bryn_OED

    The Generic Radio Workshop attributes a use of “Ew” to Shadow of the Wings, Episode 95, Aired: 17 April 1949 – where Carol Sue is being fed medicine:

    CAROL SUE: I drank ever so much medicine. Why – I don’t know.

    MOTHER: Don’t know what, Carol Sue?

    CAROL SUE: What he looks like. I never– Well, I mean, I – I don’t really see
    him. He’s always there by the window and when I look real hard–

    MOTHER: Just another little drop, dear.

    CAROL SUE: Ew. — Look real hard, I don’t see him.

    MOTHER: Of course.

    It needs confirmation, but may be worth a look.