Grammar

Uh oh or Ut oh? I’ve Never Understood the ‘Ut’ in ‘Ut Oh’

Ever use the phrase ‘Uh oh’? Many of us do, if we’re not trying to use a more “colorful” expression in its place. There’s a variant of Uh oh, that I’ve never quite been able to figure out.

If it seems strange to read a grammar post based on the phrase Uh oh, well, I suppose I can understand the confusion.

It isn’t the kind of word one would typically expect to find in formal writing. And many would likely argue that it’s barely even worthy of informal writing, for that matter.

But since it is something that people say from time to time, it’s one of those strange little expressions that will eventually make its way into the written word, too.

This brings us to the central question: Uh oh or Ut oh?

I’ve always written Uh oh, because it never occurred to me that there was a better way to transcribe the sound we make when we see something that could indicate a problem is arising. It wasn’t something I ever attempted to give a great deal of contemplation to, to be honest.

The sound we make, to me, sounds like “Uh oh,” so I write “Uh oh.” Done. Next question?

But then I’ve noticed this little variant, “Ut oh,” appearing from time to time.

While I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, and frankly, probably not as smart as the last IQ test I took claimed I am, this one baffles me.

I’ve never understood the ‘Ut’ in ‘Ut oh.’

More specifically, I’ve never understood what that little T is doing there.

Granted, the first syllable of Uh oh has an abrupt end. Words that end in T usually have a similar abrupt ending. But some letters seem to “carry over” into the next word in fast-spoken English, and a T is often one of those letters.

So when I see Ut oh, my mind immediately wonders if that wouldn’t be pronounced, “utto,” like the surname “Hutto” without the H.

Yes, I know, I need to get out more.

That aside, do you know anyone who actually says the phrase with a T in the middle of it?

It’s one of those little bizarre things that can stop a reader in his tracks. We all have those little things that make us trip over writing. Which leads me to this question:

Can you name an alternate spelling or odd twist to a word or phrase that distracts you?

16 Comments

  1. I’m from Jersey. Maybe that’s the problem. But, I cannot pronounce “Uh-oh” without it sounding like “Ut-oh” I can pronounce “Uh…Oh” and have it sound like Uh, wait a while Oh. But if you put the words together, I get “Ut-oh” and to me it is a specific word, so it makes sense. Maybe as a specific word we should spell it “Utto.” But there is an even accent on each syllable, and a separation.

    The meaning to me is a response of surprise combined with worry, which the words, Uh, and Oh don’t really carry on their own Uh being more confusion and Oh more of surprise. So, why not a new phonetically spelled word, “Ut-oh?” I know I say Ut-oh, so why not spell it that way?

  2. The “t” is just a placesaver for a glottal stop. Because, really, is there an “h” sound even there? No. There is a glottal stop there. That’s just my explanation, and I don’t know everything in the world.

    1. I know that for some, they pronounce it that way. But it’s curious to me that they’re trying to spell a glottal stop. Others, though, say they pronounce the “T” sound, which leads me to believe they’re trying to pronounce “uh oh” like “otto.” I’d like to think that’s not what they mean.

  3. I’m from Wisconsin, and Im definitely pronouncing it with a t. Which do I use ut, uht ,uh, utto, or rut? Who know I had some many choices?

  4. I’m so glad you wrote this post! Because I was in the middle of writing a reply to a comment on my blog and I wrote “ut oh”, as I have before, and started wondering, “Is that the correct way to spell it?” So I googled and found your post.
    It doesn’t look right, the “ut”, but that’s how I pronounce it, with the t sound. It’s not a hard T, just kind of a thud t, if that makes sense…
    So even though you’ve posed the question, I’m still not sure if I’m supposed to write “ut oh” or “uh oh.” Oh well… 🙂
    At least I found your blog. Will look forward to checking it out…

    Michele at Angels Bark

    1. Thanks, Michele! Glad you found the blog and hope you’ll be back!

      I think the sound is properly written as “uh oh.” I’ve never heard anyone who says the phrase with the abrupt end of the first syllable to actually pronounce a “T” sound.

  5. I say ut-oh. I actually ran into this article trying to find the correct spelling of the phrase. I’ve never heard it as uh oh.

    1. So you actually pronounce a “T” in there? I’ve honestly never heard anyone say it that way. Very interesting. Glad you found the article! Thanks for commenting!

  6. CandaceBaltz profkrg That’s “Rut Roh,” per Astro from Jetsons. Have taught this to granddaughters.

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Patrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.