Posted by Masakim on April 08, 2003
In Reply to: P.U. posted by Homer on April 08, 2003
: Does anyone know the etymology of P.U. as in something you say when someone or something smells?
The interjection P.U. to indicate disgust, especially of a smell, does not stand for anything humorous. Rather, it is a lettered spelling of a disyllabic pronunciation of a very old interjection that exists in a number of different spellings.
Since about 1600, there have been a number of interjections indicating (variously) disgust, relief, exhaustion, surprise, and the like, all representing something like the whistling sound you get by blowing a puff of air out of closed lips. The most common form is probably phew, but pew, phoo, pfew, peugh, and fogh have all been recorded in writing.
The spelling P.U. shows a emphatic, two-syllable pronunciation (pee you) of the pew form of this interjection. Other words can be given emphasis in a similar way: kee-rist! for Christ, or bee-yoo-ti-ful for beautiful are two examples. The difference with P.U. is that it has the advantage of sounding like two named English letters, which is why it's spelled out that way, instead of something like pee-yew. A similar but not entirely comparable example is the slang expression on the q.t. 'secretly'; 'stealthily', where q.t. (pronounced as individual letters) represents quiet.
Expressions like P.U. are hard to track down in their early years. The disyllabic pronunciation of a phew-like interjection is probably very old; the spelling certainly existed by the 1950s, if not earlier.
From Jesse's Word of the Day (April 16, 1997)@