Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Many Uses of Hmmm

Although I use this particular 4-letter word a lot in my writing, I never really think of it as a word in my head. However, as this article points out, it's got 4 different meanings, depending on pitch:
Spoken with a rising intonation: "I didn't understand — say again?"

Prolonged, with ample m's: "I'm thinking deeply about what you said."

High-pitched: "Yes, maybe — good idea!"

Uttered quickly and at a lower register: "I am dubious."
Oddly, I didn't realize they were right until I tried them all out.

Pretty cool.


  1. They forgot the "I'm completely absorbed in what I am doing and yes, that is Beethoven's Fifth, now leave me alone" Hm hm hm hmmmmmm, hm hm hm hmmmmmm, hm hm hm hmmmm hmmmm hmmmm, hm hm hm hmmmm hmmmm hmmmm.

  2. Nice, and true! The article does fail to mention the fifth meaning, when it's the "Hmmm" done by the openmouthed slackjawed yokel, which sounds like "Uhhhhh" and means "?????*#*@)??" Try it, you'll see; just hum with your mouth open. Warning: Can lead to drooling.

  3. Hmmmmm... comes up a fair bit (all the time) in my online conversations, mostly as a response to something I say as opposed to the other way around. Of course the inflection, intonation and duration are inaudible and therefore the degree of hmmmmness can only be determined by the number of "m"s. I have often wondered if it simply means "I have no idea and/or no clue what to say."

  4. Another one...

    A high initial tone followed by a deeper 'mmm'... as in..

    OH! yeah.. that could be intersting (in a good/naughty way) finished with a sly grin