doh / duh
These two interjections have both been popularized by cartoons.
The first, doh, has been made famous by Homer Simpson, but he was not the first to use it. That honor goes to James Finlayson, who appeared with the comedians Laurel and Hardy in several films. This dialogue is from the 1931 Pardon Us, Laurel and Hardy’s first full-length film:
Professor Finlayson: How many times does three go into nine?
Stan: Three times.
Stan: And two left over.
Finlayson (to Ollie): What are you laughing at?
Ollie (snickering): There’s only one left over.
Others have used the interjection over the years. From a 1945 episode of the BBC radio show It’s That Man Again:
Diana: The man I marry must be affectionate and call me “Dear"—
Tom: Oh you’re going to be a stag’s wife—
Tom: Same thing.
Use by Homer Simpson first hit the air on the short Punching Bag, broadcast as part of the Tracy Ullman Show on 17 November 1988. Its use on The Simpsons series was in the first episode, Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, on 17 December 1989. The doh was not so written in the script, instead it was simply called an “annoyed grunt.” Dan Castellaneta, who voices Homer, described how he came up with it in Daily Variety, 28 April 1998:
The D’oh came from character actor James Finlayson’s “Do-o-o-o” in Laurel & Hardy pictures. You can tell it was intended as a euphemism for “Damn.” I just speeded it up.2
Contrasting with this, is the interjection duh, used to denote that what someone else has just said is obvious. It got its start as an interjection of incomprehension in a Merrie Melodies cartoon from 1943:
Duh...Well, he can’t outsmart me, ‘cause I’m a moron!
This citation from the New York Times Magazine of 24 November 1963 shows that it had become part of children’s slang by that year:
A favorite expression is “duh”...This is the standard retort used when someone makes a conversational contribution bordering on the banal. For example, the first child says, “The Russians were first in space.” Unimpressed, the second child replies (or rather grunts), “Duh.”3
1Fred Shapiro, “Earliest Usage of “Doh,” American Dialect Society Mailing List, 24 Mar 2002.
3Historical Dictionary of American Slang, v. 1, A-G, edited by Jonathan Lighter (New York: Random House, 1994), 672.
Copyright 1997-2016, by David Wilton