Al Batt: Knowing when and when not to say “Uffda”

Published 9:14 am Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Al Batt’s columns run every Wednesday and Sunday.

She looked familiar, but most humans do.

I was in a large venue in Omaha. Someone waved. I waved back enthusiastically, with a smile both on my face and in my hand. It turned out that she was waving at someone behind me. The waver walked way around me to greet her friend with a hug. Some might call that an awkward moment. Some might call it cringeworthy. Not me. I just mumbled “Uffda!” and got on with my day.

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Uffda is a great word.

You need a napkin right away if not sooner. Mustard is running down your chin and it’s headed for your brand new shirt. Thanks to yoga, you use a sock.

That’s a good time to say, “Uffda!”

Icarus was a flying fool until he flew too near the sun and his waxy wings melted. That’s when Icarus said, “Uffda!”

We were supposed to write a term paper. I wrote one about all of the venomous birds in Minnesota. There aren’t any. It was a short paper. Very short. That is when my teacher said, “Uffda!”

When I was a boy, I’d take my banana-flavored Popsicle outside. The mosquitoes were so thick, that some of the tiny, heat-seeking missiles became stuck on my frozen treat. I ate the Popsicle anyway.

That was when I said, “Uffda!”

Uffda is a shibboleth. A chamber of commerce word. Saying “Uffda” isn’t even a venial sin.

There are days when I should be wearing a T-shirt reading, “What part of ‘uffda’ don’t you understand?”

Uffda, sometimes spelled uff da, huffda, uff-da, uff-dah, oofda, ufda, ufdah, oofta, or uf daa, is an exclamation of Norwegian origin adopted by Scandinavian-Americans. It’s a relatively common exclamation where I live. I think that some Swedes might say, “Usch då.” A friend says “Uffda,” but he spells it “kuffda.” The “k” is silent. He says “Uffda!” only when he is trying to get the taste of lutefisk out of his mouth.

Uffda is a term for sensory overload. It’s an all-purpose expression of being overwhelmed, surprised, exhausted, relieved, pixilated or dismayed.

In Norwegian, uff is an interjection used when something is unpleasant, uncomfortable, malicious, annoying, distressing or irritating. I say “Uff” when I’m too tired to say, “Uffda.” Uffda is most often used in Norwegian as a response to hearing something unfortunate, but not disastrous and is somewhat similar to, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

I was a small boy whose job was to gather the eggs and to shut the door of the chicken house behind me. A simple job, but life gets complicated.

My mother had given me a piece of Bazooka bubble gum. It came with a Bazooka Joe comic inside the wrapper. It was educational bubble gum. The tiny three-panel comic strip featuring the eyepatch-wearing brand mascot Bazooka Joe and his sidekick, Mort, who wore his turtleneck over his mouth. The gang entertained me with their antics and corny jokes. Here is an example as Joe visits with a friend.

Janet: “I made this cake myself, Joe!”

Joe: “Janet, this cake tastes awful!”

Janet: “Oh, yeah, smarty. The cookbook says it’s delicious.”

There isn’t as much bubble gum chewed as in the past. Fortunately, the bubble gum industry is used to having its bubble burst.

Bubble gum flavor didn’t last long, so I tended to relish it. I was enjoying the fleeting taste while chuckling over the comics when I remembered that I should have gathered the eggs before it had become dark. In my family, flashlights were merely containers for dead batteries, so I rushed outside without a lighted hand and entered the dark henhouse, feeling my way toward the nests. Finding a nest, I reached into it in search of an egg. A banty hen, intent on incubating eggs, pecked me a good one.

I didn’t say, “Uffda!”

I said, “Ouch!” and spit out my bubble gum that still had some taste left in it.

I didn’t say “Uffda!” I decided that the prized gum was worth recovering. It still had flavor left. I got down on my hands and knees and felt about under the nests for the gum.

I still didn’t say, “Uffda!”

I found that bubble gum in the complete darkness.

Even then, I had no need to say, “Uffda!”

I blew on the gum to remove the larger chunks of what have you and popped it into my mouth, not violating the five-second rule by much.

It turned out that it wasn’t the bubble gum.

That’s when I said, Uffda!”