22 January 2018


How did "P.U." get to be used to mean that something smelled bad?

Though it is sometimes spelled "piu," I always hear it pronounced as "pee-yew" with the two syllables often stretched out - and perhaps accompanied by a inched nose.

It is not an expression that is used as much these days. I associate it with my mother's generation. But actually, it is a lot older than that.

In the 1600s, the expression of a foul odor was pyoo. But English spelling had not become standardized, so this expression of disgust was also written as pue, peugh, pew and pue - but always pronounced as pyü. In our time, P.U. is the more common spelling.

This expression's root igoes back to the Indo-European word pu meaning to rot or decay. It is a shortened version of puteo, which is Latin for "to stink, to smell bad."

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