Uff da

Context: EC is a white graduate student at USC studying linguistics. Up until attending USC, she lived in Pasadena, California. That being said, her dad is from Iowa, and her mom is from Indiana. I asked EC if there were any sayings that she learned as a kid from her family or community, and she responded with this folk saying. The word is used in casual conversation as an exclamation.

Text: One is from my dad’s side, which I always thought of is one word but apparently it’s two words, and it’s called uuf da. It comes from I think Norway or Scandinavia because my dad’s grandfather was from Sweden. It’s funny because my mom says phew, so when I was little I combined then, so now I say phewfda. Uff da, it’s kind of like… if you go to Minnesota, there will be merchandise with uff da on it because there are so many Scandinavian people in Minnesota. Basically uff da, you just kind of say it when something not big has happened. But it’s like “oh man uff da, that was really hard.” It doesn’t have a negative context, but you wouldn’t say “uff da that was so exciting!” It’s always like “ugh, uff da, that was a difficult test,” or “uff da, that was a workout.” It’s never for anything super bad, or at least how my family uses it, and honestly I’m not really sure what it translates to, but I think it’s one of those things like “ugh.”

“Uff da”

Thoughts/Analysis: From what I can gather, there’s no direct translation for uff da: it’s onomatopoeia like “oof” in English. It’s really an exclamation to express and release tension. Being onomatopoeia, different languages have different spellings for similar noises. I’ve used oof before, but it seems as though uff da is very specific to Scandinavians and those from that ancestry. EC’s combination of phew and uff da is especially interesting, exemplifying how the blending of cultures can impact the folklore that people spread. She’s the first to use it in her family, but as she ages and has children, her new version may spread as a fusion: an example of polygenesis in real time.