There are some colloquial words that you might say casually every so often for your entire life and never have a good idea of how to spell, even if you’re highly literate. Today’s word may be about the chiefest among them.

You may not even recognize it on sight. What is it? It’s a colloquial term for a U-turn, as seen in phrases such as He pulled a U-ie, He did a U-ie, He made a U-ie, et cetera. It simply takes the U of the usual term and adds the ie suffix, a diminutive or derivative suffix (as in wheelie, meaning to rear up a vehicle on its hind wheel(s)). The suffix is normally spelled ie, so that’s why I spell it that way here; you can also see the word as U-y. And also Uy and Uie, and the same with a lower-case u. And every single one of them looks like a Dutch family name.

Or the stage name of a Korean pop star. Well, that would be Uee or Uie. Or Yui. She acts, she sings, she looks very, very pretty. I suggest looking her up. Especially if you like pictures of pretty Korean pop stars.

The awkwardness of the spelling of this word is just what we get for having such a slippage between the spelling of words and how they are pronounced. If we wrote everything in the International Phonetic Alphabet to reflect how it’s said, this word would be /ju i/. But, then, if we did that, we wouldn’t call it that, because the turn is shaped like U, not like ju.

I hope that you don’t mind that I put serifs on that U. Older Editions of the Chicago Manual of style specified that, for instances such as T-shirt and U-turn, where the letter described the shape of something, serifs should not be used on the letter as it may carry an implication that somehow the course of action has little flares on the ends. I always found that fatuous. People are not that stupid, and for that matter no one expects a T-shirt to be shaped exactly like a T even sans serif. So more recently the advice has made a 180˚ turn and now it allows the shape-descriptive letter to stay in the same font as the other letters.

The turn is also shaped like how this word moves in your mouth, though. Say these letters a few times in a row: U E U E U E. See how at one point the tongue is constricted towards the front, then it pulls back as the lips round, then the lips pull wide and the tongue is forward again, and on it goes, back and front and back and front, every time a boomerang – a U-turn.

2 responses to “U-ie

  1. Thank you for this. You have not only affirmed the usage of a very functional word, but also linked it to Korean pop stars and the way the words moves in the mouth. Bravo!

  2. In the same way that I would not spell dammit with an ‘n’, even though I’d use one for the (probably more correct) separated version (‘damn it’, which has a slightly different, more deliberate feel to my eye), if I absolutely had to use this word (and I can only think of one circumstance where I’d absolutely have to), I think I’d eschew the necessity of using the letter U at all and spell it phonetically: youie, or maybe youee.

    The only circumstance in which I would feel it necessary to write out this word would be if I were writing down a story – fictional or otherwise – in which I had to quote a person saying it. If I were telling a story that had a U-turn in it, versus someone saying that, I’d avoid the awkward spelling (possibly even by writing “pulled a U-turn”, which might jar a bit for people, but not, I don’t think, as much as “U-ie” or the other variations would).

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