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DUH v. DOH – All You Need to Know

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\"Homer Simpson\"What do you say we have some fun today?

Late one Saturday night, Karen Swim and I were having a little email exchange about Project Confident Friendship. The word duh came up, and it got me wondering about duh versus doh.

Let’s Dissect Duh and Doh

Duh rose to popularity in the 1980′s as one of the four or five words that constituted the Valley Girl vocabulary. At our house back then, both “Duh!” and the rather cryptic expression “No duh!” were heard up to 500 times a day. The American Heritage Dictionary defines duh as follows –

Used to express disdain for something deemed stupid or obvious, especially a self-evident remark.

Doh, Homer Simpson’s favorite expression, is clearly ready for prime time. Believe it or not, the word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary way back in 2001. Merriam-Webster defines doh as follows –

Used to express sudden recognition of a foolish blunder or an ironic turn of events.

What are we to make of this? Are duh and doh synonymous, or might there be a sliver of difference? After wasting time on pondering the question, I eventually decided the meanings of these two words are indeed, probably, different.

Point 1. Thanks to Webster, we see that doh expresses sudden recognition. Therefore, if you committed your foolish blunder two days ago, you want to call attention to it by exclaiming duh! rather than doh! In contrast, duh is not time dependent at all, which perhaps explains why certain individuals repeat the word again and again and again.

Point 2. Duh is more derisive than doh. Perhaps because the word is associated with Homer Simpson, doh has a humorous quality about it. Duh is sometimes deployed with humorous intent, but more often for the purpose of mocking oneself or another. Put another way, saying duh in the wrong place at the wrong time could ignite a bar brawl. To my knowledge, no physical violence has ever been sparked by the word doh.

Point 3. Based on the dictionary definitions I was able to find, duh has a narrower range, since American Heritage tells us it applies mainly to remarks. Here I beg to differ. The other night my wife and I were at a crowded restaurant, and as we sat down, she mentioned that I was wearing my patterned golf shirt inside out. I can’t recall whether I exclaimed Duh! or Doh!, but I believe either would have been appropriate. What do you think?

Clarifying Examples
For understanding fine grammatical points, examples are often helpful.

  • If you swerve suddenly to avoid hitting an animal with your car, say “Doh! A deer!”
  • If someone asks you where Jesus performed his first miracle, say “Cana, duh.”

(Sorry, I never met a pun I didn’t like.)

Duh Bottom Line
Precise use of words is the grease that keeps the wheels of industry turning. That’s why we should help each other cross our duhs and dot our dohs, you know what I mean? When you hear people say duh when they mean doh, or doh when they mean duh, gently correct them by responding with duh or doh, whichever is appropriate — something along the lines of, “Doh, not duh, duh!”.

Are we clear? I for one am more confused now than when I started writing this post … DOH!

(This post is part of the Problogger Killer Titles group project!)

(Photo – Homer, by supernova3688 on Flickr)

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25 Responses to DUH v. DOH – All You Need to Know

  1. Ulla, wondering … what is the German equivalent of duh …?

    Robert, this post may take me past the Middle Zone straight to the Twilight Zone.

  2. Brad,
    thanks a lot for this post – I must admit that I – up to now – didn’t know what “duh”, not to mention “doh”, meant. Duh!

  3. Augh! Too many jokes; so little time!

    This post definitely proves you accidentally (or on purpose) wandered into the Middle Zone a while back. You might as well face the fact that you’ll never recover. My advice: Go with it, Bubba!

    Oh, and get yerself a cowboy hat, too. ;-)

    “Cana, duh.” Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

  4. Joanna, I’m glad someone appreciates these silly puns. Be careful how you use the word: Interestingly, printed use of doh, spelled d’oh, is trademarked by 20th Century Fox. (Something I learned researching this post.)

  5. ‘doh! a deer!’ I don’t believe I just read that!

    You’re priceless :-)

    I think I probably use them interchangeably, but I thought – until reading this classic post – that it was just different spellings of the same Homer Simpson expression. I’m not sure we had a UK form of this until the Simpsons arrived over here… but wait to stand corrected on this.


  6. Millar, Hey, I don’t know about brilliant, but I sure had fun writing it. Off to check your post out now.

  7. Hah! Brilliant. Saw the title at problogger. Glad I clicked.

  8. Hot bananas! Now I know and will choose my placement of duhs & dohs more wisely. Brilliant.

    Cheers & best of luck with Problogger’s contest!

  9. Duh and doh were used excessively in my house until my wife and I banned them from use by our younger children. Well at least ‘duh’ has been officially banned as it was used in a completely disrespectful manner. It seemed that no matter what we said or asked we got the wide-eyed or one-eyebrow-lifted ‘duh!’ “Finish your homework, be home by dark, clean your room, did you pack your stuff for the trip?” On and on and on. But ‘doh’ has recently been re-accepted as appropriate because it now signals recognition that a task not done needs to get done if they want something. “Can I ride my bike to John’s house and play with him?” “Did you finish your homework?” “Doh!” And off they go to finish the task! Hopefully they won’t come up with a variation like “duhdoh” or “dohduh” and claim they are not in the rules book!

    Fun post!

  10. ROFL!!! Brad, “duh” is the one word that I have kept from my early days of Val speak (which I worked really hard to lose) and now I understand why I never switched to Doh. Duh, like I could like never have figured that out like by myself, for sure. :-) I am not sure if I have ever found a post on language so entertaining. Homer and the Valley Girls would be pleased. :-)

  11. Hi Brad – I love the Cana-duh one. My kids use those words all the time and I never realised there was a difference in meaning.

  12. Hi TJ, Your kids may come to realize life without duh is an enriching experience! Your comments really do prove how much language affects everyday life!

    Karen, You were a Valley Girl? Did you have “mall hair”? :)

    Kat & Kath – There were about 10 other puns I thought about for this post, but probably a good idea to stop when I did.

  13. Deidre Hughey

    Any title with “doh” in it deserves a peek! Came from ProBlogger…interesting post!

  14. Deidre, Jean, thanks for coming by! Jean – like puns? Try this - :)

  15. I clicked on your ProBlogger headline because it’s one of the Good Ones. Glad I did!

    I’m up for puns anytime.

  16. Robyn, LOL, very true. Your visual imagination is working well. Duh can also be said in anything from one to about 10 syllables while the hands are in motion!

  17. Brad, my first reaction to this is that the body gestures that go with the ‘duh’ expression helped make it what it is – the shrugging shoulders or the outstretstetched hands on each side or even the furrowed brows and downturned mouth.

    Body language truly helped tell the story!

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  21. You have all missed the key points.

    DOH is an ACCEPTANCE that something YOU have said or done is obviously WRONG.

    DUH is a CLAIM that something someone ELSE has said or done is CORRECT but so obvious that it was not worth bringing up.

  22. Hi Jan, Glad you like the post! Occasionally I do like to get into the fine details of English grammar and usage. And while we’re at it … why not have a little fun? :)

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Business Blog as Base of Operations for Online Marketing

  23. Love your disclaimer: Sorry, I never met a pun I did not like.

    I thought uh-oh when I read the title of the post. Just another self-indulgent post, I smirked to myself.

    Wow, I enjoyed this, who would have thought duh and doh – the different levels of meanings, hilarious examples as applied to conversations – can be so engaging a post? Certainly not me.

    It looks like slim pickings, this post. Turns out to be a full course meal. But then again, it must be the gas in my tummy from lapping up this funny post.

    jan geronimos last blog post..Blogging Tip: How To Build Your Personal Brand

  24. “Duh” may have gotten associated with Valley Girl talk in the 1980′s but it dates way back to some time before my own youth in the 1940′s and 1950′s. It expresses the opinion that someone is stupid, usually the other guy, but can be used in a self-deprecating manner. I think it may have caught on by a linquistic transformation process known as “back-formation” since it could be seen as a back-formation of both “dumb” and “dull.” Duh would sometimes be said with a “stupid-sounding” voice while making a face, mugging with an exaggerated overbite, half-lowered eyelids and raised eyebrows (look up the puppet character “Mortimer Snerd”).

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