Aiyoh! It's there in the dictionary!

Updated - November 01, 2016 10:54 pm IST

Published - October 04, 2016 04:46 pm IST - Bengaluru

Like many Indian words, this one is loaded and can mean many things depending on context and tone.

Illustration by: Satheesh Vellinezhi

Illustration by: Satheesh Vellinezhi

How many times does your answer to a question thrown at you in your day begin with “Aiyoh” or a variant of that? Or does the word creep into your day’s talk at some point? This expression is so widely used in that it is now in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) .

The OED has now included “Aiyoh” and “Aiyah” in its latest addition this September (the OED does four updates every year). The OED is and was the Bible of “correct English” for many children in the English-speaking world. It is widely regarded as the accepted authority and guide on the English language -- something you scamper to when in doubt.

Like many Indian words, this one is loaded and can mean many things depending on context and tone -- irritation, disgust, surprise, dismay, pain, lament, disappointment, with “aiyah” and “aiyoh” being interchangeable.

“I’m appalled at the inclusion of this word!” says Shailaja Vishwanath, former English teacher and currently freelance writer-editor.

“It is not English. At some level I understand they ( OED ) are adapting to regional usage. But at the level of a language, as a writer and editor, it hurts me deeply. I believe in purity of language for all its effect. I cannot accept these words in the OED , though I may use them in my everyday life within a context. But does their inclusion in OED validate it? I don’t know.... The OED included the laughing emoticon some time ago and it took me a long time to come around to accept that!”

The inclusion however, goes to show how universal language is -- the words are credited to Mandarin and Cantonese dialects of Chinese!

But variants are also there in Tamil, Sinhalese, and are widely used in many South East Asian countries, specially Singapore and Malaysia.

South Indians will agree it is a common word across the States here and if there has to be a depiction of a south Indian up north (specially in a Bollywood flick) you can bet “Aiyyo” is one of the first words to be used. There was also the Rani Mukherjee-Pritviraj starrer, Aiyyaa . There are enough movie songs with the word in it.

Author and veteran journalist Gita Aravamudan, however, dismisses this inclusion as “just hype”. “I think we have a vibrant language of our own in India drawn from different parts of the country and we don’t need an endorsement from others for our language. The OED is quite irrelevant now.”

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.