Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Duh or No Duh?

Posted by Neal on October 31, 2004

I was walking in the hallway at Doug and Adam’s school and overheard one student say to another, “No duh!” After years of hearing duh without a no preceding it, I was surprised to hear the two together again.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines duh like this:

Duh: interj. Used to express disdain for something deemed stupid or obvious, especially a self-evident remark. Imitative of an utterance attributed to slow-witted people.

That fits with my introduction to the word: I first came across it in a Disney comic digest in the mid-1970s, in a speech balloon pointing to Brer Bear.

A few years later was when I first heard people actually saying duh. It was quite popular in my sixth-grade class in McLean, Virginia, and always in the form no duh!. As the year went on, the pronunciation changed so that an [r] slur appeared at the end: no durrrrr! A few years later it had apparently mutated some more, at least among the speakers in that area, as evident from my friend Greg’s remarks upon listening to a tape recording of himself he’d made in the early 1980s:

I had forgotten some of my Valley Girl speak from back then. I mean, I remember “Gag me with a spoon,” or “tubular,” and “grody,” but forgot, “Ooooh, what a burn!” and “No DOY!”

After that, I didn’t hear duh for a while, and when it resurfaced in the 1990s, it had ditched the no. The inflection was pretty much the same: as near as I can tell, a low rising tone followed by a falling tone and a slight rise at the end, essentially the same intonation as nuh-uh and (y)uh-huh have when they’re used to contradict. The meaning was the same, too. The Online Slang Dictionary has entries for both duh and no duh, and each is defined as “a sarcastic response used when someone states the obvious,” with a cross-reference to the other.

Diane Wang has written a popular comparison of duh and doh!, and like the Online Slang Dictionary, she too notes that duh can appear with or without a no preceding it. She reports that for some speakers, the no acts as an intensifier, while for others, it’s used or omitted for reasons of prosody. The Online Slang Dictionary notes no differences at all (except for presence or absence of no).

The only difference I’ve ever noticed is that, as I’ve noted, I heard no duh in the 80s, duh in the 90s, and have now heard no duh again. What I want to know is: Are there speakers out there who use duh and no duh in free variation, or do they all use just one or the other? And are there any speakers whose own personal duh-usage over time mirrors the no duh/duh/no duh progression I observed?

12 Responses to “Duh or No Duh?”

  1. Anonymous said

    I don’t use either term anymore, but I’m pretty sure that when I used to use them (back in Northern California, when I was in grade school in the mid-80’s) I’d really put a lot into “Duh”–face wagging, stretching out the vowel at the end, etc. On the other hand, I would say “no duh” without any particularly exaggerated stress when I wanted to express my disgust for someone’s obviousness more matter-of-factly.

  2. In South Texas (Corpus Christi) where I attended grade school another variation was “uh DUH”, with a kind of schwa and then a stressed “duh”. I remember also hearing “uh dur”, “duh”, “no doy”, “no dur”, and of course “no duh”.

  3. janet said

    I used “no duh” back in the 80s with wild abandon. I switched to “duh” with everyone else. But suddenly, last week without warning, “no duh” spewed from my mouth as if it had been there all along. It flowed like a beautiful river. I haven’t heard “no duh” before or since, but I’ll relish it’s short visit for eternity.

  4. sumoh 2005 said

    I just did a search for NO DUH because my beau couldn’t believe I still used the terminology. Hey DUH and NO DUH are quite useful!

    Thank you for reminding me about the brilliant NO DOY. Time to incorporate that one in the daily lexicon as well.

  5. Anonymous said

    Let us not forget, “No doy hickey”. Man on man.

  6. Anonymous said

    I first heard “doy” from my sister, who at 13 had attempted to say “No duh!” but had mangled the last word. This was back around 1987 in central California.

    From that time, “Doy!” or “No doy!” was part of her vocabulary and I thought that was the extent of it.

    This year I heard the character Shego from Kim Possible using the word “Doy” and always wondered if my sister had somehow originated the word or had merely stumbled on it by pure chance.

  7. Dean said

    In College,several dudes used the slang doy…uh doy…everything was frick`n doy.made me sick ,wished i had paint chips to eat.That was in Greensboro N.C.

  8. Paul said

    My big sister and her friends (in NYC) were saying Doy, No Doy, and the brilliantly obnoxious “Uh Doy-Hey” in the early to mid ’70s. The last one was my favorite, but the only people I ever meet who have heard it are my generation and have big sisters who were in junior high in the ’70s.

  9. […] hear [dʌ], especially if it’s preceded by a voiced sound, for example a vowel, as in No duh!. In Spanish, though, /t/ at the beginning of a word is pronounced as [t]. I remember a […]

  10. larick said

    Doy is 1st person conjugation of dar, a spanish verb “to give”. No doy means “I don’t give”. I wonder if it’s use as American slang -particularly in CA and TX- evolved from english speakers hearing spanish speakers, then at some point conflating it with “no duh”.

  11. […] don’t have enough data to know, but I wouldn’t be surprised. It reminds me a lot of how duh started out as an imitation of stereotyped inarticulate phonation from a mentally handicapped […]

  12. […] generally needs to have a consonant close off the syllable. (Exceptions are interjections, such as duh and meh.) This brings up a new issue: Since I now have a /t/ at the end of a syllable (what […]

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