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Old 05-08-2006, 10:15 AM
elmwood elmwood is offline
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Black women and "Mmmmm MM MM!"

Yesterday afternoon, while I was wandering the aisles in the local supermarket, a black woman several feet in front of me was pushing her cart, at random uttering "Mmmmm MM MM! Mmmmm MM!" every so often to nobody in particular. I've often heard black women use "Mmmmm MM MM!" in conversation, and occasionally hear some mumble it to themselves.

Is there a name for this sound? What are its origins?
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Old 05-08-2006, 10:59 AM
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If you get the answer to this, then you can ask why white women say, "Dear, me."
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Old 05-08-2006, 11:13 AM
Epimetheus Epimetheus is offline
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I'm not a black woman, but I make this noise when I see something I like, cute girl, tasty delicacy, or a very nice car.
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Old 05-08-2006, 11:19 AM
LouisB LouisB is offline
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I'm not a black woman and I've been doing this for at least sixty years. I picked it up from my mother, who was not a black woman either. Maybe it came from the old Campbells Soup jingle that included the words "mmm-mmmm-good, that's what Campbell's soup is, mmmm-mmmm-good." But where did Campbell's Soup get it?
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Old 05-08-2006, 12:25 PM
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IANABW, but I'm married to one. She doesn't make this particular humming noise often, but betwen her and her friends, I've noticed it used both as Epimetheus does, as well as an expression of (relatively) quiet disapproval or suprise. Not suprisingly, I hear her do it most often (presumably in the second sense)when grading students' papers.
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Old 05-08-2006, 01:05 PM
vetbridge vetbridge is offline
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I am not a black woman either (where are all the black women today? Is there something going on?) but I would think that the Mmmm is a substitute for mindless humming.
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Old 05-08-2006, 01:45 PM
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Originally Posted by vetbridge
I am not a black woman either (where are all the black women today? Is there something going on?) but I would think that the Mmmm is a substitute for mindless humming.
I am neither black nor a woman and I do not think that black women have the market cornered on this vocalization but I know the sound we're talking about. This is no mindless humming.

It's not a musical hum. It's more of a long m sound on one note as though someone were drawing out the beginning of a word that begins with m, followed by a glottal stop and another shorter m sound at a slightly lower pitch, then another glottal stop and still another short m sound at an even lower pitch.

It can be positive but usually negative, as in surprised disapproval (as described by caveman; I'm assuming the students have made a few really bad errors). Appropriate when looking at the latest price of Regular when pulling up to the pump.

The duration of each tone and the pitch drop vary depending on the reaction expressed. A faster repetition of the last two m's indicates serious disapproval, like a tsk-tsk, in a "shame on you/him" way. Longer durations imply that the speaker is somewhat stunned, as in, "I can't believe it." In fact, for emphasis, the phrase, "I can't believe it" might follow the mmm's, using the same pitch envelope and rhythm.

I doubt there's a factual answer to the etymology of something that's not a word.
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Old 05-08-2006, 01:49 PM
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WOOKINPANUB WOOKINPANUB is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CookingWithGas
If you get the answer to this, then you can ask why white women say, "Dear, me."

I don't believe I've ever heard a white woman, other than Mrs. Pool in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, say this. As for the OP, I've never heard anyone other than
black women use this expression in earnest. I sometimes do it as a joke, but it would never have occured to me to express myself that way if I hadn't heard it from them first.
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Old 10-27-2010, 02:36 PM
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I don't believe I've ever heard a white woman, other than Mrs. Pool in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, say this.
Then substitute "Oh. My. God."
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Not a unique observation, but certainly true. Perhaps you should write a letter to the Times.
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Old 10-27-2010, 04:05 PM
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Tom Hamilton, the radio voice of the Cleveland Indians, is the whitest white man ever from Wisconsin, and he says "mm mm MMM" all the time as a means to convey disapproval ... I suspect he usually uses it in situations where he would like to say something else but would prefer to keep his job.
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Old 10-27-2010, 04:58 PM
phreesh phreesh is offline
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Hijack, but where are all the black women?
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Old 10-27-2010, 06:07 PM
rhubarbarin rhubarbarin is offline
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It's both a Black English thing, and a general Southern thing. My lily-white Texas grandmother makes this noise when she's seen something she doesn't like.
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Old 10-27-2010, 08:22 PM
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Umm yeah, uh there's a whole bunch of these umm sound thingies.

The one for yes is uh-huh (ŭN'hŭN') and the one for no is uh-uh (ŭN'ŭN', ŭN'ŭN') {sound files on those pages}.

So, I'm pretty sure you're hearing a triple uh-uh, which sounds like either those mmms or NNnnn NNnnn NNnnnnn. Usually accompanied by a wagging finger when you're caught trying to steal cookies as a child.

CMC fnord!
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Old 10-27-2010, 09:46 PM
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Someone told me it was a slang, or sometimes more polite way of saying, Lord have mercy, or Lawd-a-mercy!

She was black but never really said it herself. :shrugs:
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Old 10-27-2010, 10:01 PM
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Didn't Mammy say it in Gone With the Wind?
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Not a unique observation, but certainly true. Perhaps you should write a letter to the Times.
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Old 10-27-2010, 10:07 PM
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Do we have a video/audio clip of this sound?
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Old 10-27-2010, 10:24 PM
Earl Snake-Hips Tucker Earl Snake-Hips Tucker is offline
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Well, this is close. Even though it's not a Black woman saying it, I'd be willing to bet that the author, who has yet to be identified, is Black.

OK, it's not really in the spirit of the OP, but it was the closest I could find.
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Old 10-27-2010, 11:18 PM
outlierrn outlierrn is offline
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I'm wondering how the OP heard this, 'cuz I can easly hear a yummy sound, or tsk tsk tsk sound.


Inflection Baby, yeah!

Last edited by outlierrn; 10-27-2010 at 11:18 PM.
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Old 10-27-2010, 11:22 PM
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Do we have a video/audio clip of this sound?
Here ya go.
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Old 10-27-2010, 11:24 PM
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[tim kazurinsky]Oooh, ooh! I could be a black woman![/tim kazurinsky]
  #21  
Old 10-27-2010, 11:34 PM
Chessic Sense Chessic Sense is offline
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It's both a Black English thing, and a general Southern thing.
That's the right answer to any "Why do black people do ___" question.
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Old 10-28-2010, 11:28 AM
Sister Vigilante Sister Vigilante is offline
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Precisely. Kind of like how soul food is actually southern food.
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Old 10-28-2010, 11:49 AM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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Hijack, but where are all the black women?
"I'll take 'Things Cleavon Little Didn't Say in Blazing Saddles' for $100, please, Alex."
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Old 10-28-2010, 12:06 PM
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It's both a Black English thing, and a general Southern thing.
Yup. I used to hear it fairly often here in central Oklahoma. The usage seems to be dropping off, but it was never a "black thing" here.
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Old 10-28-2010, 01:47 PM
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"I'll take 'Things Cleavon Little Didn't Say in Blazing Saddles' for $100, please, Alex."
That's good.
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Old 10-28-2010, 02:37 PM
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Is there a difference between "Mmmmm MM MM!" and the sound of congregational approval made at frequent intervals in some church services? (I thought that one was "Mmmmm MM")
Quote:
Originally Posted by ZipperJJ
Tom Hamilton, the radio voice of the Cleveland Indians, is the whitest white man ever from Wisconsin
How do you know there haven't been any whiter white men from Wisconsin? Was there a skin tone survey?
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Old 10-28-2010, 02:57 PM
Tethered Kite Tethered Kite is offline
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I have a very proper, very white cousin who uses this in a more abbreviated way. And it's delivered in a nearly inaudible tone.

When she does this brief "hmm" sound all conversation stops and then changes direction. I imagine it to mean, "And I'm not saying what I think about that."

Pretty powerful, that little unvocalized sound. I don't think it's just a woman thing, but in a society which not so long ago didn't approve of women commenting on things of import perhaps it became a way she could still get her two cents worth in without risking social censure.

ETA: What is it with grocery stores, anyway? I see all manner of people who seem to use their trip to the store as a way of drawing attention to themselves. I think it must be their only day out of the house and they are seizing the opportunity to say, "Hey World, I exist."

Last edited by Tethered Kite; 10-28-2010 at 03:00 PM.
  #28  
Old 10-28-2010, 08:47 PM
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I know exactly what the OP is talking about, and most of you are off base. It is a very distinct sound, it arises almost exclusively from black women, and it has a very specific and singular meaning (very similar to 'Lord have mercy', as pointed out previously).

There is another utterance that black women make that shares the same characteristics (aside from the underlying meaning): "Girrrrrrrrrl!"


mmm
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Old 10-29-2010, 09:04 AM
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How do you know there haven't been any whiter white men from Wisconsin? Was there a skin tone survey?
Lawrence Welk was from Minnesota. Disqualified.
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Old 10-29-2010, 10:21 AM
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Related.
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Old 10-29-2010, 10:49 AM
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And all this time I thought they want "doot, doot, doot, do do do doot, doot, doot, do do do doot"

I should listen more closely.
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Old 10-29-2010, 01:11 PM
Tethered Kite Tethered Kite is offline
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And all this time I thought they want "doot, doot, doot, do do do doot, doot, doot, do do do doot"

I should listen more closely.
I'll bet Lou Reed told you that.
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Old 10-29-2010, 01:21 PM
Earl Snake-Hips Tucker Earl Snake-Hips Tucker is offline
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Lawrence Welk was from Minnesota. Disqualified.
Pssst. . . North Deekota
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Old 10-29-2010, 01:27 PM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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Originally Posted by elmwood View Post
Yesterday afternoon, while I was wandering the aisles in the local supermarket, a black woman several feet in front of me was pushing her cart, at random uttering "Mmmmm MM MM! Mmmmm MM!" every so often to nobody in particular. I've often heard black women use "Mmmmm MM MM!" in conversation, and occasionally hear some mumble it to themselves.

Is there a name for this sound? What are its origins?
Despite what you may have been told, black people are not, in fact, extraterrestrials. Most of us have the same number of fingers and toes as white folk.
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Old 10-29-2010, 02:34 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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Despite what you may have been told, black people are not, in fact, extraterrestrials. Most of us have the same number of fingers and toes as white folk.
Cite?

D&R
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Old 10-29-2010, 02:44 PM
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Pssst. . . North Deekota
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Old 10-29-2010, 02:56 PM
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Pssst. . . North Deekota
Minnesota, North Dakota, what's the difference?

  #38  
Old 10-29-2010, 03:20 PM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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Cite?

D&R
Why do you say these things, when you know I will kill you for it?
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Old 10-29-2010, 05:10 PM
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Why do you say these things, when you know I will kill you for it?
It is obviously a clever ruse to lull you into a false sense of security.
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Old 10-29-2010, 08:27 PM
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I say dis befo: My mama say dat mmmm-mmmm-mmmm stuff 'n she ain't black. Hell, I say dat mmmm-mmmm-mmmm stuff 'n I ain't black. Y'all ain't gotta be black t say dat stuff. Heps, doe.
  #41  
Old 10-29-2010, 08:47 PM
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I'm not a black woman, but I play one on TV. Actually, I don't, but I just wanted to say that since no one else has yet.
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Old 10-30-2010, 02:34 AM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is online now
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I'm not a black woman, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. Actually, I didn't, but I just wanted to say that since no one else has yet.
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Old 10-30-2010, 11:14 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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Why do you say these things, when you know I will kill you for it?
Because I know that, steaming from the ears as you might be, you would never raise a hand against a fellow Tolkien freak.
  #44  
Old 10-31-2010, 02:07 PM
Duke of Rat Duke of Rat is offline
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My take on it is more like if you hum with the same cadence, stress, and inflection ( I guess that's what I'm trying to convey) as if you were saying the exaggerated "Oh. My. God". "Lord have mercy" would be too many syllables.

And it's a Southern-ism. My grandmother did it quite often, and usually in precisely the same situation you'd hear "oh. my. God" today. I suppose it was a way around the whole "taking the lord's name in vain" thing.
  #45  
Old 10-31-2010, 09:58 PM
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Black woman here. Yay, something I can answer.

For those who aren't sure what's being referred to, it's like this:

Mmmmm....mmm.......mm

Notice that the "mm's" get shorter and the pause between them gets slightly longer. It is often accompanied with head-shaking and a wan smile.

It communicates: "The matter at hand is a damn shame." But it's usually used for not-too-serious matters. Best friend just killed herself by hanging herself in front of her children? "Mmm mmm mm" does not belong at all. Neighbor you don't like with bad-ass kids who you hate does the same exact thing? Yeah, you would do it then.

Older women often do it compulsively. The price of soup is up a few cents. A child drops an ice cream cone all over his nice shirt. Jesus is up on the cross, asking God why he is being forsaken. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse were just spotted in lower Manhattan. I find it freakin' hilarious and hope I'm like this when I get older.

I only do it when I'm with another black person who "gets" it (and usually for stupid stuff, like if someone has a run in her stockings or something). I know ya'll white folk are saying ya'll do it too, but I have yet to hear a white person do it in all of my 33 years. And I'm from the South too.

"Mmmm....mmm......mm" should not be confused with "mmm HMPH!" The latter voices agreement or the affirmative (depending on the context). It's what you might hear at a black church from the audience. And I have heard plenty of non-black women using this convention.
  #46  
Old 11-01-2010, 10:15 AM
Nzinga, Seated Nzinga, Seated is offline
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Black woman here...
Aww, monstro! I was watching this thread with amusement, wondering how many different interpretations would be bandied without any black woman's output. You had to come in and ruin my fun. Damn shame. Mmm mm mm.
  #47  
Old 11-01-2010, 10:30 AM
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My mom does this all the time (exactly as Monstro described - with the head shake). She's white, from Texas, 63 years old.
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Old 11-01-2010, 12:48 PM
Sister Vigilante Sister Vigilante is offline
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My grandmother said it too. She's white, or was. She's dead but that's not important right now. My 60+ aunt says it. My mother says it too. All white.

And to Skald: I saw what you did there.
  #49  
Old 11-01-2010, 12:58 PM
Skald the Rhymer Skald the Rhymer is offline
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And to Skald: I saw what you did there.
Which was what? Get annoyed at being treated like the Other?
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