Language is an amorphous creature; every generation adds new words, lets go of old ones, and occasionally changes the grammar. As a matter of fact, things can get so confusing that older generations get befuddled by all the slang and terms that pop up around them. Take for example this guy:
Anthony tweeted: “yo what the **** does “oof” mean I’m 40 years old I’m too old for memes”
Speaking of which, one word that has found its way into today’s conversation is “oof,” a word so versatile that it can take many meanings, from an expression of amazement and pleasure all the way to an expression of pain.
Interestingly, words that can mean one thing, as well as its opposite, are called contronyms, Janus words, or auto-antonyms.
Contronyms can only be understood from the context within which they are used, which is the case with the word “oof”).
“Oof” can be used in one of three ways: as a guttural sound that is used to express wide range of emotions (which is when the word is used as an onomatopoeia), as an acronym for a phrase like out of office, and as an actual word that can mean money, wolf, or arid soil (even though most of those definitions are archaic and no longer in use). Of the three, the most common usage is when “oof” refers to how shocked or surprised you are by a certain action or event.
Well, it really depends on who you ask, and because “oof” is such a malleable word, rarely will you find two people who agree entirely on what that word means.
Nevertheless, there is some agreement on the broad strokes. For starters, “oof” is an exclamatory word used when something out of the ordinary happens, especially when that thing is so shocking that it almost feels like a psychological punch to the stomach, a sort of wake-up call.
This thing could be good or bad, and the word “oof” would still be applicable. See? That’s really broad, isn’t it?
What’s more, the word “oof” has seeped into modern pop culture to such a degree that it has now become a part of other memes. For example, a recent meme that was circulating on Twitter, one that combined softblocking with cancel culture, started off with the words “oof” and “Yikes.”
(If you’re wondering what softblocking or cancel culture is, don’t worry. I didn’t either. Basically, softblocking is blocking then unblocking someone on social media to cause them to unfollow you, while cancel culture is about blocking someone for past mistakes they might have made, like what happened with Kevin Hart and the Oscars.)
To get a better handle on what “oof” means, let’s look at a few specific usages:
Different meaning of the word “oof”:
You could use the word if you see someone getting a sick burn, and rather than saying “oooh burn!” you could say “oof.”
An example of an online conversation I found:
“Greg: After a long stressful day at work, I need some sleep. God, I am tired.
Emily: Did you know that at Cornell University they have an incredible piece of scientific equipment known as the tunneling electron microscope? Now, this microscope is so powerful that by firing electrons, you can actually see images of the atom, the infinitesimally minute building blocks of our universe. If I were using that microscope right now, I still wouldn’t be able to locate my interest in your problem.
You can also use “oof” when something funny happens to you or to someone you know. For instance, the next time you watch someone fall face-first on the floor on “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” saying “oof” would be an appropriate reaction.
You can say “oof” if something painful or embarrassing happens to you or someone else, in which case the word is used in a more empathetic way instead of to demonstrate mere surprise. What’s more, the pain doesn’t have to be physical; it could be emotional or even virtual.
For example, if you are playing an online game and have invested considerable time in your character, and then your character dies for some reason and all the effort and time you invested goes down the drain, the word “oof” would be completely fine here.
Occasionally, some people log onto the internet just to say the word “oof” and then log off. It can be that simple. So, don’t be afraid to log onto Youtube, find one of your favorite videos, comment “oof,” and then vanish into the night.
Alternatively, you can use “oof” when you want to show pleasure, excitement, or plain arousal. For instance, if you’re sitting in a restaurant, and a delicious, juicy burger is placed in front of you, you can say “oof,” particularly if you are very hungry.
Another scenario is if you see an exceptionally attractive individual pass by.
Sometimes, the word “oof” can be used to indicate relief. For example, if you have been stressed while waiting for some test results, and those results come back better than you had expected, you can express your relief by saying “oof.”
(What’s funny is that even if the test results come back worse than you had feared, you could still say “oof, ” and it will still make perfect sense. The only difference is that it will mean something entirely different in this second case.)
You can use “oof” when you are feeling annoyed by something or someone.
Here is an example:
Garry: Oof, this is the seventh time that this person has called me on my phone, and I keep rejecting the call every time. I just don’t want to talk to them.
If you see something so startling that at first, you have a hard time understanding it, you can use “oof” as in to say, “Woah, that’s crazy!”
Imagine that you are watching a hotdog eating competition, and one contestant has managed to gobble down more than 90 hotdog sandwiches. In this scenario, you’d be entirely justified in letting out an “oof.”
You can say “oof” when you mess up. For example, if you are carrying a hot plate across the room and it accidentally spills and falls on the ground, you can react by saying “oof.”
By now, you should have a general sense of how the word “oof” is used in everyday situations, but the most important thing to remember is that it is always contextual: “Oof” has so many meanings that the context gives more definition than the word itself.
If all this seems overwhelming, trust me, you’re not alone.
In 1962, an artist by the name of Ed Ruscha produced a painting with one word on it: “OOF.”
The idea behind the painting is to play with the almost nonsensical nature of the word, its onomatopoeic nature, and its visual impact. The idea is to juxtapose a word the artist took from pop culture with different advertising techniques, including brand logos.
The end result is a painting that explores what words actually mean and where the boundaries of art end and those of commercialism begin. If you are into this sort of thing, you can find Ruschan’s painting in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Just like the definition of the word, no one seems to agree on where “oof” comes from. That said, there are some theories out there:
One of the most popular theories out there is that the word found its way into today’s language thanks to the game Roblox.
For those of you who don’t know what Roblox is (which included me before researching this article), this is a brief description:
So, Roblox is this online 3D game that allows players to create both their own characters as well as their own games, and other players get to play these games.
What’s more, users can build their own worlds and launch their own Roblox game. In essence, you can think of it as a gaming platform.
At some point, Roblox became super popular with the younger demographic- we’re talking young teens here- and turned into a cultural phenomenon for them.
When a character dies in Roblox, also known as a Robloxian, they make that “oof” sound, which is why the word became so popular later on. After all, the internet has a habit of making memes out of anything it can get its hands on.
As a result of this, some online players have gotten into the habit of saying “oof” every time their character dies, sort of a reference to Roblox.
On an interesting side note, it is possible that even though Roblox popularized the sound, it wasn’t its creator; the one claiming that credit is Tommy Tallarico, who not only asserts that he owns the rights to the “oof” sound but is also planning on talking to Roblox about some form of compensation for the usage of the sound.
According to Tallarico, Roblox took the sound from the game he launched back in 2000 called Messiah.
Another popular theory is that “oof” is nothing more than an onomatopoeia.
An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like the sound it describes.
For example, the word sizzle refers to the sound your food makes as you’re cooking it on a pan, but the word itself also sounds like it.
To drive the point home, here are other examples: Slam, splash, bam, gurgle, belch, and mumble.
Well, “oof” also falls into this category: It is the sound someone makes when they get punched in the stomach, causing the air to rush out their nose and mouth.
This is fitting because, as we said earlier, “oof” is used to punctuate any event or action that gives the effect of being punched in the gut, be it a physical punch or a psychological one.
From an etymological perspective, there are many likely candidates that explain where “oof” comes from. Some people associate “oof” with exasperation and believe that it came from “Uff-da,” which is Scandinavian.
Others assert that “oof” came to us from 19th century English and was used to sympathize with people who were going through hard times.
This isn’t as farfetched as it sounds as the first recorded usage of the word in English was in the mid 19th century.
So far, we’ve covered the basic meanings of “oof,” the ones you’ve probably come across more than once. However, like all words that are nice and easy to pronounce, “oof” has a long history in many different languages.
In late 19th century Yiddish, “oyf” meant on and “tish” meant table, which when put together meant “on the table” and referred to “money in gambling.” From here, the word “oof” came to be part of British slang and used as an informal symbol for money and cash. So, using that form of “oof” in a sentence, you could say something like this:
He’s got so much oof that it would almost be impossible for him to spend it all in one lifetime.
When tracing back the usage of the word “oof” to refer to money, we will find that it was used numerous times during the Osborne trial, which took place in 1892. It would be fair to assume that the word “oof” had been in use for a few decades before the trial.
Another curious usage of “oof” comes in the form of the phrase “oof bird,” which refers to an imaginary provider of wealth. This phrase was probably used jokingly and came about as a result of the French word for egg: oeuf. The idea is that the phrase alludes to the bird that can lay a golden egg.
Additionally, “oof” appears in several old texts. For instance, in “Colonel Quaritch” by H. Rider Haggard, there is a passage on page 232 where a character named Johnnie says, “so Quest is his name, is it, and he lives in a city called Boisingham, does he? Is he an oof bird?”
In “Burlington Bertie,” a song by Harry Norris, there’s a verse that goes as follows:
Burlington Bertie’s the latest young jay He rents a swell flat somewhere Kensington way He spends the good oof that his pater made Along with the Brandy and Soda Brigade
According to the Scottish National Dictionary, oof has had many uses dating back to the 1700s: The word “oof” has been used to refer to wolves.
”Oof” was also used as a noun to refer to the angler-fish.
”Oof” functioned as a verb that meant to be acid or sour, particularly when talking about soil that kills plants before they have a chance to grow.
When talking about grain crops, “oof” was used as a verb to say that the crop was growing rank with leaves yet it produced no seed-heads.
“Oof” also functioned as an adjective that was used to describe a patch of sour and acidic soil that inhibits plants from growing popularly.
Not only does “oof” have several meanings, several of which are outdated and no longer in use, but it is also used as the basis for multiple acronyms, plenty of which are still in use today.
For instance, on social media, “oof” is used to denote Out of Office, whereas within legal circles, “oof” means order of forfeiture.
Here are a few other examples you may run into while texting:
Despite “oof” being an acronym for all the above expressions, the most common usage in this regard is to relay to someone that you are out of office.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.