Sunday, December 15, 2013
Women go “awww.” Men go “ewww.” This, I have decided after decades of research, is the prime difference between the genders. Occasionally a woman might say, “ewww,” (and here I am thinking of Marie Antoinette coming to terms with hygiene issues at Versailles), but a heterosexual man will never say, “aww.” It’s simply not in our genes. I have heard gay men say “awww” once or twice but I don’t know if they were mocking women. It’s a possibility. Attila the Hun never said either “awww” or ewww.” Neither did the late Mrs. Ceausescu or Mrs. Sitting Bull. Eva Braun probably said, “awww” whenever a brood of German shepherd puppies dismembered a non-Aryan.
“Awww” is a woman’s best, catch all, single syllable word. It implies a special sort of appreciation generally associated with cuteness or sometimes gallantry. It applies to infant clothes, cute potty chairs, Fiat and Mini automobiles when driven by other women. “Awww” comes out during baby showers. It’s occasionally uttered when a man says something nice but not necessarily true (“Your shoes look just like Manolo Blahniks, even though you got them at Walmart.”) In such cases, “awww” is often accompanied by a squeeze of the hand or a peck on the cheek. A really good “awww” is sometimes paired with a gentle and appreciative tear.
In recent times I’ve heard “awww” whenever the antics of a new kitten are mentioned, even when said kitten does something alarming or disgusting or both (“He knocked over Granny’s Ming vase and then crapped in Grampa’s slippers.”) The size of the animal is crucial. “Awww” could conceivably be applied to a pony, but never to a horse unless it is one of those dreadful miniature horses bred in Turkmenistan. Elephants, whales, hippos and rhinos get no “awwws” but a lion cub might as long as it’s not killing something. When it does, it gets a “ewww.”
“Ewww” is largely male. When a buddy barfs in the alley behind the restaurant after eating three dozen wings and drinking eight or ten Buds, his friends go, “ewww.” Women go “ewww” when driving past roadkill. They might go “ewww” if another woman they don’t like is wearing a particularly tasteless outfit or an unflattering bathing suit, or if they’ve recently discovered that the same woman is now dating a bodybuilder. (If a man is dating a woman bodybuilders, his friends are likely to say “Wow!”) Women might say “ewww” at raw oysters but not at sushi.
If a woman’s “ewww” is directed at feline hairballs or dog poop, it is understood that the accompanying male will clean it up without making supplementary sounds of his own. Luckily for males, “ewww” is rarely voiced when dirty diapers are the issue. A woman might go “awww” when seeing a homeless bag lady, then “ewww” if the lady gets too close and, it turns out, smell bad, but there are relatively few instances were both might be used in the same sentence without some exclusionary clause.
The good thing about both “awww” and “ewww” is that neither calls for any degree of finesse, and one cannot be mistaken for another. And the more I think about it, the more I believe in the distinct probability that the entire English language might in time be reduced to these two expressions.