That terrible Chinese word for 'hominuh, hominuh, hominuh'

« previous post | next post »

[This is a guest post by Conal Boyce]

Chris Chappell finally caught up with you on the nàge nàge nàge / nèige nèige nèige 那个 那个 那个 ("that that that") story from USC that you introduced to the public more than two weeks ago (see the second item in the list of readings below). (In case they don't say 'hominuh, hominuh, hominuh' where you are, that's something certain Minnesotans like to say, tongue in cheek, as a back-woods alternative to 'er, um, uh'.)

Forget viruses, what we have is a genuine Plague of Idiocy in this country. Chris's facial expressions say it all. I actually felt sorry for him having to tell the USC story, but of course it's right down his alley, as host of both 'America Uncovered' and 'China Uncensored,' so he couldn't very well ignore it either.

The thought of the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid in tuition, collectively, by USC students or / and their parents makes me physically ill. They all deserve a full refund, regardless of what major they're in.

I just noticed three very unpleasant characters at the end of the youtube ID ( Will the video be taken down on that account I wonder?


Note by VHM:  Can you catch the not very common word that Chris misreads / mispronounces?


Selected readings


  1. Dave Cook said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 8:20 am

    It's likely that "homina, homina, homina," however spelled, migrated to Minnesota from Ralph Kramden's Bensonhurst:

  2. Anonymous said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 8:32 am

    Is “aspersions” an uncommon word?

  3. Victor Mair said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 8:33 am

    That is so precious! Thank you, Dave Cook.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 8:34 am



  5. Philip Taylor said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 8:50 am

    'Is “aspersions” an uncommon word?' — Not in the U.K. "Casting aspersions" (usually on someone, or on their motives) is a very common figure of speech.

  6. Deborah Fowler said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 9:14 am

    Trevor Noah also did a nice job with this.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 9:45 am

    Among factory workers, farmers, laborers, store clerks, repairmen, construction workers, and others who make up the bulk of our population, "aspersion" is not a common word. I know, since I have worked in all of those capacities and have close relations with people who have followed such occupations for their whole life.

  8. Scott P. said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 10:18 am

    Among factory workers, farmers, laborers, store clerks, repairmen, construction workers, and others who make up the bulk of our population, "aspersion" is not a common word

    Unless they're Catholic and take their kids to be baptised.

  9. Kennedy said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 10:31 am

    Did Chris Chappell really mispronounce "aspersions"? It sounds more like he simply mistook it for "aspirations" as he was reading from the teleprompter.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 10:37 am

    mid-15c., originally in theology, "the shedding of Christ's blood," from Latin aspersionem (nominative aspersio) "a sprinkling," noun of action from past-participle stem of aspergere "to sprinkle on," from ad "to" (see ad-) + spargere "sprinkle, strew" (see sparse). Non-theological sense of "a bespattering with slander, derogatory criticism" is attested from 1590s. To cast aspersions was in Fielding (1749).

  11. Victor Mair said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 10:44 am

    You're right, Kennedy. The whole "aspersions" thread is a red herring. Chris clearly misread "aspirations" as "aspersions". Note how I phrased the original question at the end of the o.p.

  12. Aaron said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 11:10 am

    "In case they don't say 'hominuh, hominuh, hominuh' where you are, that's something certain Minnesotans like to say, tongue in cheek, as a back-woods alternative to 'er, um, uh'."

    That's what it means?! I always thought it meant something akin to a wolf whistle (i.e. "that person/thing is sexy/impressive").

  13. Terry K. said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 12:25 pm

    Regarding his saying "aspirations" instead of "aspersions" I think the idea is that unfamiliarity with the word caused the misreading. Which is possible, but not the only possible explanation.

  14. DaveK said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 12:26 pm

    @Dave Cook:
    For what it’s worth, I’ve only heard one person use “humming, hummina hummina” as a filler and he had grown up in Brooklyn

  15. Victor Mair said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 1:37 pm


    Where are you from? What are your linguistic roots.?

    Trying to figure out the value of your FWIW.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 1:39 pm

    From a Russian immigrant:

    I can only wonder how they are teaching Russian in US universities, given that the official Russian word for a black person is the N-word.
    There is a very famous poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky where he used that word which was forced to be memorized in all Soviet schools.
    Here is a parody оn that poem where the N-word is used at 2:11 and 4:50.

    "Да будь я хоть негром…" по Маяковскому

    ["Yes, even if I were a black man …" according to Mayakovsky]

  17. Victor Mair said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 2:01 pm

    From a Russian PhD candidate:

    What the commentator "Russian immigrant" said is totally true.

    In Russian негр is a common word without any pejorative connotation. There is also a number of sayings with this word like "Свободный как негр в Африке" / Free as a n- in Africa , indicating that a person doesn't have any worries and troubles. Or "работать как негр" / work as a n- , which means "to do a heavy job".

  18. Kenny Easwaran said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 2:58 pm

    For what it's worth, I had the same impression as Aaron – "homina homina homina" is something I think of as being said by male working class characters in black-and-white TV shows looking at sexy women.

    But I see from looking it up, that the general use is as a phrase to indicate one's speechlessness, and it's just that one thing that apparently makes these characters speechless is seeing someone sexy.

  19. DaveK said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 7:54 pm

    @Victor Mair:
    I grew up in northern NJ and have lived in Philadelphia about 40 years. The speaker I mentioned is someone I worked with in Philadelphia in the 1990’s. He was Irish-American, about 45 then and had a heavy New York accent.

  20. M. Paul Shore said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 8:32 pm

    I once heard a segment of some NPR show in which various seemingly smart and educated people confessed that at some point in their youth they’d misconstrued the pronunciation of some uncommon or semi-uncommon word that they’d only ever encountered in writing, and then, largely because the word is not often spoken, hadn’t realized their error until a surprisingly advanced age. The one example that sticks in my mind is that of a woman who believed well into adulthood that “misled” was pronounced “MY-zld”. I can sympathize with this, because I made some minor errors of that type myself in the past; plus, there’s a small number of rarely-heard words, mostly technical terms from some field or other, that I know in print but to this day have never bothered to find out the exact pronunciation of. So I wonder whether this Chris Chappell guy, who perhaps even has a little dose of dyslexia, thinks that “to cast aspirations” is the actual expression.

  21. cameron said,

    September 16, 2020 @ 8:48 pm

    "Homina, homina, homina" may be used here and there in certain social situations across the country. But I think, wherever it is found, it started out as an allusion to "The Honeymooners", as Dave Cook pointed out in the first comment above.

    Younger people may use the phrase without knowing its origin, just as there may be young people who use "yadda, yadda, yadda" without recognizing it as a Seinfeld reference. But it was originally a Honeymooners reference.

  22. rosie said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 6:14 am

    At 4:24 in the video, we see that the context is the phrase "to cast any aspersions on". How ever else the word "aspersions" might be used, the phrase "to cast aspersions on (someone)" is, as Philip Taylor said, a common English idiom. Google NGrams shows the rate of usage of "cast aspersions" as about .07 per million in both BrE and AmE.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 7:17 am

    I stand by what I wrote in the o.p.: "the not very common word".

    And supplemented with this comment:

  24. Victor Mair said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 7:24 am

    Popularity rank by frequency of use:

    aspersion #100000 #278353 #333333

  25. Kate Gladstone said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 7:26 am

    But where does “hominuh” c9me fr9m? “Hem and haw,” maybe?

  26. Victor Mair said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 7:41 am

    Just want to mention that every time I see or hear the word "hominuh" I cannot help but think of "hominid". But sometimes I also think of "hominem". It depends whether I'm wearing my archeologist's hat or my philosopher's cap.

  27. Rose Eneri said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 8:40 am

    My recollection is that Ralph Kramden used "homina, homina, homina" specifically when he was caught doing something he should not have done and was stalling for time to conjure up an excuse.

    Alice Kramden,"Ralph, what happened to all the money I was saving up in the cookie jar?" Ralph, who took the money to buy beer and is surprised that Alice found out about it, "Homina, homina, homina."

  28. Victor Mair said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 9:57 am

    Rose Eneri's evidence leads me to think that it is an expansion of "um, um, um".

  29. Randy Hudson said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 10:00 am

    @M. Paul Shore:
    I remember my astonishment (in my early teens) when I realized the spoken word /'rɑndevu/ and the written 'rendezvous' were the same word! (The latter I probably thought of as /'rɛndəzˌvuz/ — obviously a French course was still in my future.)

    I've always thought "I've been myzled!" is a wonderfully self-referential expression.

  30. VV said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 10:30 am

    I grew up in Minnesota in the 90s and I've never heard anyone say "homina, homina, homina".

  31. Victor Mair said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 11:05 am

    Here's a French word that gets murdered by English speakers, even professors: bourgeois.

    Here are a couple of English words I mispronounced for most of my life, even though I knew full well what they meant:



    And there are plenty more. Already by the age of ten I had a huge reading and writing vocabulary, but coming from rural Ohio, I had no models for pronunciation, so I just made up what was in my head.

  32. Philip Taylor said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 12:26 pm

    In British English, "bourgeois" is, in my experience, invariably pronounced /ˈbʊəʒwɑː/ — what alternatives do you hear in <Am.E> ?

  33. M. Paul Shore said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 2:39 pm

    I suppose, if one wanted to be particularly imaginative about it, one could consider Ralph Kramden’s cry of “Homina homina homina” to be coincidentally reminiscent of a Latin cry of “Homine homine homine”, meaning “From/with man, from/with man, from/with man!”. (“Homine” is the ablative singular of “homo”.) In other words, “Please be understanding about my transgression, because it stems from my fundamental nature as a human being!”.

  34. M. Paul Shore said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 2:55 pm

    Or better yet “[. . .] because it’s in the essential nature of human beings to do such things!”.

  35. js said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 10:48 pm

    /ˈbʊəʒwɑː/ just barely makes sense in non-rhotic UK En, but it's really bizarre to hear mainstream US En speakers pronounce it the same way.

  36. Avi Rappoport said,

    September 18, 2020 @ 1:56 am

    About the actual segment, seems like the professor could have explained that it might sound like the n-word but is completely unrelated, before ever using it. It was supposed to be a communications class, the whole thing could be very useful to warn students not to misinterpret when they meet with Chinese speakers.

  37. Philip Taylor said,

    September 18, 2020 @ 2:00 am

    JS, in what sense does "/ˈbʊəʒwɑː/ just barely makes sense in non-rhotic UK En" ? In French it is closer to /buʀˈʒwɑ/, but to my (British) ear, British English /ˈbʊəʒwɑː/ is a fair approximation.

  38. Andreas Johansson said,

    September 18, 2020 @ 2:02 am

    As a L2 speaker whose exposure to English is mainly written, there's been lots of words I've known the meaning of for years before finding out the hard way I didn't know how to pronounce.

    Random examples include: coerce, meadow, caste

  39. M. Paul Shore said,

    September 18, 2020 @ 4:05 am

    Philip Taylor: js’s (and Prof. Mair’s) point is that a fair number of people, under the false impression that in French all written “r”s after a vowel are silent, pronounce “bourgeois” as if the French original were “bougeois”. (Another occasionally heard bogus pronunciation of that type is “armoie” for “armoire”.) In non-rhotic varieties of English, the difference between “bourgeois” and “bougeois” is, I assume it’d be fair to say, not large enough to be seriously attention-getting; but in rhotic varieties the difference is large enough that the bogus pronunciation produces a quite ludicrous effect for anyone in the know.

  40. M. Paul Shore said,

    September 18, 2020 @ 4:46 am

    In the first sentence of my previous post, I should’ve written “a fair number of people, under the false impression that in French the rule by which written “r” is silent after written “e” in certain environments applies to the other written vowels as well, pronounce [. . .]”.

  41. Victor Mair said,

    September 18, 2020 @ 5:08 am

    M. Paul Shore has put the matter very well, especially as stated in the last sentence of his comment.

    BTW, the first version of his first sentence is clearer to me than the second, which is harder to follow.

  42. M. Paul Shore said,

    September 18, 2020 @ 6:20 am

    Prof. Mair: My concern was that the first version of the sentence greatly overstated the beliefs of the French-uninformed. For example, few if any French-uninformed people would try to silence the “r”s-after-vowels in “Gérard Depardieu” or “Isabelle Huppert”.

    (By the way, I’m one of those people who could really use a grace period of ten or twenty or thirty minutes after posting to do any needed edits, such as some forums provide. I really do try to get my posts in top shape before hitting “Submit Comment”, but that effort doesn’t always succeed.)

  43. M. Paul Shore said,

    September 18, 2020 @ 6:36 am

    Prof. Mair: And there, it happened again! The moment I saw my posted comment, I realized to my great discomfort that the “By the way” with which I open my second paragraph, regarding revisions, could be misinterpreted as a deliberate mocking of the “BTW” with which you opened your second paragraph, regarding revisions—and mockery of that kind is something I’d never do! (At least on this forum.). With an editing grace period, I could’ve substituted “Incidentally” within seconds after the comment went up.

  44. Rodger C said,

    September 18, 2020 @ 6:56 am

    I always want to know: After he myzled her, did she bed-evil him?

  45. austimatt said,

    September 18, 2020 @ 6:57 am

    In my head I always say 'rottick' for 'rhotic' – when I say it out loud, I always hesitate (it doesn't come up often in daily conversation at home though).

  46. BobW said,

    September 18, 2020 @ 3:40 pm

    @VM – Of course you've run across the idea that the condiment got its name from someone saying "What's this here sauce?"

  47. Ben said,

    September 21, 2020 @ 8:49 am

    Terrific write up by Conor Friedersdorf:

  48. stephen said,

    September 21, 2020 @ 9:18 pm

    Getting back to the original subject of this post…

    I met somebody with the last name of Nigro. He said it's an Italian name, pronounced like the English word Negro.

    I also found this website, which indicates the name is also Brazilian.
    But as a Brazilian name it sounds like "Negru." ("knee-grew")

    When the African country of Niger got its independence, didn't anybody notice its resemblance to the US ethnic slur? Didn't anybody suggest another name, maybe one not too similar to the name of Nigeria?

    And of course Wikipedia has a list of places with naughty-sounding names.

RSS feed for comments on this post