10 December 2022

Uzhe? Yoozh? Usjhe?

You walk into your favorite coffee shop. You greet the familiar barista, who knows your daily order. You say “Hi, I’ll have the”—wait, I can’t figure out how to write the next word. You know, “the usual,” but shorter. Hip! Casual! I’ll have the … uzhe. I mean, the yoozh. The youj?!

Why does this shortened form of usual, which rolls off the tongue when it’s spoken, cause so much confusion when we try to write it down? When I offered my Twitter followers 32 different options for spelling the word, nobody was fully satisfied with any of them. Youge to rhyme with rouge? Yusz as if it’s Polish? Usjhe in a desperate hope that some letter, somewhere, would cue the appropriate sound? The only thing everyone could agree on was that all of them felt weird.

Our confusion about how to spell uzh/yooje/ujhe reveals some of the breaking points between English spelling and pronunciation. Fluent speakers and writers of English normally take the connection between letters and sounds for granted, especially for a common word like usual. When we see this connection fall apart, it can be disorienting—a clear syrup transformed into a shattered toffee by the presence of one stray crystal. But in dissolving the links between spelling and pronunciation, we can learn about an eternal tension between the most elegant way of writing words down and the most elegant way of saying them.

In the puzzle of yuzh/uge/euge, there are two main pieces. The first is that the letter u has several pronunciations in English... The second puzzle of shortening usual is even more serious than the first: The sound represented by the letter s in this particular word isn’t pronounced like any of the s’s in Sesame Street. Rather, it’s influenced by the sound that comes after it...
Discussion continues at The Atlantic.


  1. Starting the countdown until other readers here label you a prescriptivist.


    ten... nine...eight...

  2. I might humbly suggest *the us’*, with an apostrophe at the end. Perhaps not the most intuitive pronunciation, but the natural way to spell it.

  3. The subtitles on the Hulu show 'Solar Opposites' spell it "uush", which I find intuitive.

  4. Use. Now Use just has another use.

    1. Philadelphians might object to using use…

  5. Another word like this is the shortening of "Sugar" as an endearment. I first ran across it in The Color Purple, written as "Shug", and it took several repetitions on the page for me to figure out what the word was and how it should be pronounced - more like "shoog", I guess, but either way, it looks really weird.


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