Più che una parola, è un’onomatopea, un’espressione di ammirazione e sorpresa che trascende i confini linguistici e culturali. Qual è la sua origine?

Molly Malcolm

Speaker (American accent)

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The word ‘wow’ is used to express surprise, excitement or admiration. It is a versatile term with a curious history. Even though it sounds like a modern word, its origins date back centuries. It was first recorded in writing in a 1513 English-language version of Virgil’s Aeneid translated by a Scottish bishop. It was originally used as an interjection to express surprise or astonishment, and may be related to the old exclamation ‘vow’, a shorter form of ‘I vow!’ (I promise), which was used to add emphasis to a statement. Over the centuries, the meaning of ‘wow’ has evolved, and by the late 1800s it was in common use among English speakers. 

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In the early 1920s the word ‘wow’ was used as a noun, (“The show we saw was a real wow!”); as an adjective (meaning ‘sensational’, ‘enjoyable’), as a verb (“They really wowed the audience”), and also in the exclamation ‘Wowey!’. However, the popularity of ‘wow’ soared with the rise of mass media and popular culture when it began appearing in comic books, films and on TV shows , especially those addressed to a teenage public. It was also used in computer software and merchandising. 


The use of ‘wow’ continued to evolve over time, and the word found its way into various aspects of modern communication. Today, it is a staple in text messages, on social media posts and in online interactions to react to pictures, videos or posts, where it often appears as an easy and quick way to show appreciation or surprise without having to write lengthy comments. The expressions ‘wow factor’ and ‘wow effect’, now widely used in everyday language to express a strong positive reaction, are slang terms in business to describe features that leave a lasting impression on customers.


‘Wow’ is definitely short and to the point, and its meaning is quite clear. Mind the context, though! The term can also be used in critical or ironic statements, particularly online, for example, in response to something boring. It can also be used sarcastically, or perhaps in reply to someone who has said something unpleasant or improper (‘Wow!’, meaning: “That was a lousy thing to say!”). Wow, that’s useful to know!   


The word ‘wow’ is very similar in a vast number of languages: the Spanish ‘guau’, the Russian ‘bay’ (pronounced ‘vau’), the French ‘waouh’, the Portuguese ‘uau’, and the Dutch ‘wauw’ are all approximations of it. 


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Questo articolo appartiene al numero July 2024 della rivista Speak Up.

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