Oxford English Dictionary Quietly Adds Tamil Slang 'Aiyo'

'The OED has admitted a rare word of power into its pages'
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2016 8:57 AM CDT
Oxford English Dictionary Quietly Adds Tamil Slang 'Aiyo'
Indian Tamil Hindu women cook special food to celebrate the harvest festival of Pongal at Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums, in Mumbai, India, Friday, Jan 15, 2016.   (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

In the latest quarterly update of the Oxford English Dictionary, there was great rejoicing when, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl's birth, words such as "splendiferous" and "human bean" joined the great heap of our language's modern lexicon. More quietly, the Tamil slang word "aiyo" also entered the fray, but the dictionary's description—"In southern India and Sri Lanka, expressing distress, regret, or grief; 'Oh no!', 'Oh dear!'"— is being taken to task for being "pithy," "emasculating all [the word's] colorful possibilities," "reduc[ing] it to cud," and "suck[ing] the life out of it," at least according to one writer at Quartz. He calls "aiyo" multipurpose in the way the F-bomb is but notes it's so much more, and not a curse word.

Aiyo is common to the major Dravidian languages of southern India: Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu. It's been connected to the Hindu god Ayyapa and the wife of Hindu god of death Yama. The Indian Express reports that it first reached an English audience in 1886 via Chamber's Journal. But like Quartz, the Express takes issue with the dictionary's description, which "has not fully appreciated the depth, power and dignity of this word, dismissing it as 'of imitative origin.'" Aiyo is instead "fully loaded" and yet "the only broad-spectrum interjection which is not obscene," and with "only a hint of a consonant, it seems to have no content, and yet is capable of expressing the entire condition of the human bean." So use it, and use it splendiferously. (Check out some of the other latest additions.)

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