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“Ow!” My New Favorite All-Purpose Word

Last month I attended a festive family holiday gathering.

While there, I spent some time hanging out with the younger set, who were keen to explain critical elements of their culture to me (this mostly included watching them play video games while trying to shield my elderly brain cells from information overload).

I noticed one particularly rambunctious youngster who ricocheted from toy to toy, activity to activity, bouncing around and around the room as he did so.

Periodically, he would yell, “Ow!”

Sometimes he was smiling as he did this.

When questioned, his parents explained that “Ow!” is their son’s word for emotional overload. Period.

When life gets too big, too booming, to up close and personal, this little boy yells, “Ow!”

I totally got it. 

Here, “good” stress and “bad” stress both get the same greeting. “Ow!”

Happy, sad, afraid, angry, frustrated, confused, over-energized, exhausted…..all are catalogued under the umbrella header of “Ow!”

Hungry? Ow! Full? Ow!

Bored? Ow! Too many choices? Ow!

This made so much sense to me.

So often I have struggled to fine-tune my understanding of my own emotions, tasking myself with the seemingly impossible challenge of putting a name to each face, even if I could swear we’d never met before.

Now, while watching this little one’s example, I found myself wondering if all that is really so necessary.

Perhaps sometimes it is enough to just know you’ve had enough. Ow!

As in….. Emotions, go away! Thoughts, be quiet! Aches and pains, pipe down! Doubts, fears, endless hindsight-fueled monologues, put a lid on it!

And don’t even get me started on self-meanness or “feeling fat.”

Ow! Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow OW!

Yup. It works.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you have a word or phrase that you use to sum up thoughts, emotions, physical sensations or other life experiences that feel overwhelming or indefinable? If yes, how does that word or phrase help you and/or help others to help you?

p.s. Apparently there is good science behind the little boy’s choice of word. In fact, some pain researchers posit that saying “Ow!” during experiences of physical pain can somehow interfere with the delivery of normal pain-processing signals…..or something like that. In other words….Ow!

Photo by lukar14

“Ow!” My New Favorite All-Purpose Word

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2017). “Ow!” My New Favorite All-Purpose Word. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Jan 2017
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