Few phrases can elicit such dread as the two simple syllables, “Uh oh.”
If a hair stylist doing something to your hair says, “Uh oh,” you freeze.
When a car mechanic looking under the hood says, “Uh oh,” you know the cost is starting to climb.
Your heart lurches if a physician examining you or your medical chart murmurs, “Uh oh.”
Those two vowel sounds in descending tones land with a clunk. The only question is, how bad is it?
Not only does “uh oh” have built-in remorse or blame, it has levels of intensity. I say, “Uh oh,” when I spill coffee on the kitchen counter. I say something else when I spill coffee on a clean, white shirt.
“Uh ohs” cousins are common interjections such as “ahhh,” “oops,” “eeek” or “brrrr,” shortcuts of communication. Remember when we learned the parts of speech in school: The interjection shows surprise, as OH, how pretty! AH, how wise!
The exclamation mark emphasizes excitement! Or emotion! To make sure we get the point!
“Uh oh” is not quite as expressive as exclamatory words, the positive “wow” or “yay” or “oooh.” Neither is it the world-is-weighing-me-down expression, “Oh, man.” “Uh oh” is one of those onomatopoeic phrases like “ugh” or “mmm” that comes naturally. It is such an automatic expression to English speakers, even babies say, “Uh oh.” Some linguists believe it is the third sound babies make after “mama” and “dada.” “Uh oh” may have been around forever, but it became an official word in 1925 when it was listed in Merriam-Webster dictionary. (“Yoo-hoo” made it in 1924.)
With special emphasis — “UH (big pause) oh” — it is menacing. As in, “You’re caught!” But, a gentle, singsong “uh oh” is an effective parenting tool, according to the article “The Magic of ‘Uh Oh’” on the website amotherfarfromhome.com.
And yet ... (What an ominous phrase that is.)
And yet, as frightening as “uh oh” can be, I know a phrase even worse: “You’d better come look at this.”
I love my cottage and garden to the point of idolatry, and yet ...
When I bought the house a friend said, “Congratulations. Now you can spend the rest of your life fixing it.” In my white-picket-fence euphoria of new home ownership, I thought she was kidding. Uh oh. The most expensive repairs have started with, “You’d better come look at this.”
It’s an old house, 90-plus years old, but beautifully refurbished when I bought it. I was not too dismayed when the gods launched great limbs through the roof (twice), and hurled a lightning bolt to blast out a window, or even when the valiant heating/air conditioning unit expired. “Normal stuff,” I told the cats. “To be expected.”
But then ...
That’s another phrase boding doom.
But then, I added a new room and the home repair gods settled in for a long, long visit. For a decade, things have gone wrong with it that I didn’t think possible. A hardwood floor rotted out? The exterior bricks sliding off? How is this even possible?
I’m not ready to sell my house, and that’s a pity because house sales are hot right now. So is the remodel business. A year of being locked down and stuck at home has heightened interest in home ownership. And home repairs. We want our home to be as comfortable as possible. Sometimes that feels selfish.
Homelessness is widely visible, even in my midtown neighborhood. Homeless numbers, here and across the nation, have grown and are still growing because of soaring housing prices exacerbated by the pandemic-savaged economy and other causes. Even so, we know that a massive homeless population, like an iceberg, is invisible and undercounted. I am deeply grateful to have shelter.
It comes at a price. Before I bought my cottage, did anyone tell me to budget 1%-4% of the home’s value for home maintenance? And for major home repairs, “much more” than that, according to the Motley Fool’s millionacres.com article “How Much Money to Budget for Home Maintenance.” We’re advised to go into home ownership “with a healthy savings account.”
If somebody told me that, I wasn’t paying attention. I was busy reading the Wall Street Journal article “Host a Cultivated Garden Party.” I still dream of garden parties and OH, I still love my home! Exclamation point!