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In English, we generally spell 'Ah', 'Aah', or 'Aaaaaah' (as it seems, any number of a's is possible) with an 'h' at the end. Someone just asked me why and I have been searching all over the internet for a clue. Does anyone know and/or have any theories, historical context, anything? Thank you,

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    Any number of h’s is also possible: ahhhh. Same with ooooh and ohhhh, except there they denote different pronunciations, /əʊ/ and /uː/, respectively. This exclamation-marking final h (or h’s) appears in lots of other languages too, though I suppose that could be through English influence. In the Germanic-speaking world, it’s not uncommon to use h to mark long vowels (think of German names like Hahn, Kohl, Wehn), which is possibly related… or possibly not. Interesting question, though I’d broaden it beyond English to make it on topic here (as it stands, it would be better at English Language & Usage). Dec 12, 2021 at 0:30
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I'd have the pronunciations of oooooh and ohhhh the other way round than you (i.e. oooooh is /u:/ and ohhhh is /əʊ/)
    – Tristan
    Dec 12, 2021 at 9:53
  • @Tristan So would I! That was me not paying attention to my typing. Dec 12, 2021 at 10:04
  • The h in "Oh" also serves to distinguish it from the poetic and vocative "O".
    – Rosie F
    Dec 13, 2021 at 11:16
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    @RosieF Not really – they’re the same word. The vocative particle is also written oh in contemporary use, and the exclamation was also commonly written o formerly (and in poetry). Dec 13, 2021 at 22:24

2 Answers 2

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There are three possible explanation, and I think they have a cumulative effect:

  1. Even in the Latin language there was ō/ōh variation. Possibly oh is a contraction of ōhō.
  2. There wasn't such an exclamation in English before the 1400s.There were ea/la/lo exclamations. In the same time there was the rise of Latin literature, the Norman, Frankish influences, so from this time there appear o, and oh in English. Or as Latin tradition in English, or via Norman tradition of Latin, or from Frankish, where h comes to mean a lengthening sign after contraction of words like gehen, sehen, etc.
  3. All the other exclamations as uh, ah, ugh, etc. are more recent and made by analogy. My own explanation - there were too fewer words without digraphs, etc. in English, that even Shakespearean strictly-by-Latin-example O-vocatives look outstanding.
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I suspect this is just a matter of orthography. I would interpret "aaaaaaaaa" (which is sometimes written) as /æ:::::/ (i.e. a very lengthened TRAP vowel), whilst I would interpret "ahhhhhhh" as /ɑ:::::::/ (i.e. a very lengthened PALM vowel).

I don't know why I'd interpret them this way though, so I suppose it only pushes the question back one stage.

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