Wednesday, December 02, 2009

That's not an Ugg. This is an ugg. ...or at least an ugh.

I've been asked to get the word out.* So I'll actually get out two words: whooga and ugg.

First, I like the word whooga. According to Sarah at Whoogaboots, whooga "is [an] Australian slang word which refers to joy and happiness" and she tells me it's pronounced [hugaː]. In combination with boots it would likely lose any stress from the 2nd syllable, which would then be reduced to [ə]. That creates a nice easy contour over 3 syllables: primary stress/unstressed/secondary stress. Like boomerang. Or bandicoot. Similar in contour to didgeridoo. And the repetition of the [u] vowel is playful. Hula Hoop. Loop de Loop. Toodaloo. Foofaroo. Whoop-de-doo.

Now on ugg(s)

A few years ago when I heard people talking about uggs or ugg boots, I assumed it was a brand. The boots looked familiar, and I figured some company decided to specialized in an established style, and chose the name to play with "ugg" as a shortened form of "ugly" because of the rustic look of the boots. Well there is an UGG® brand out there, and perhaps ugg is a shortened form of ugly. Tho Sarah at Whoogaboots reminds me that, as is so often the case, "the exact origin and meaning of the name is still fiercely debated."

A 1994 mention in the New York Times (by Timothy Jack Ward) refers to the boots as "ughs", explaining that it's Australian slang for the sheepskin booties that surfers use to keep their feet either warm or cool. (Hey, just like a thermos.) That's the same story you'll find in several places. That spelling could be combining a shortened form of ugly, with an onomatopoetic grunt. Now I mostly find uggs, a spelling perhaps influenced by the popularity of the Ugg brand. Which brand Ward then called "the footwear of the moment on the American West Coast."

One usage feature that's worth noting is the variation between "uggs" and "ugg boots". Those who object to "ugg boots" as a pleonastic form will claim that "boots" is unnecessary, as all uggs are boots. This is the same objection we might hear regarding a "cardigan sweater" or "Stratocaster guitar".

Others who object to the use of 'boots' might do so because they believe uggs should be contrasted with boots. By this view, there are boots, and there are uggs. They are distinct types of footwear.

Interestingly, tho the Whooga website itself alternates between "uggs" and "ugg boots"—which would seem to indicate that they believe the pleonastic use is acceptable—the site copy also apparently contrasts uggs and boots. Offering a bit of fashion advice, they write

"Black uggs tend to look much slimmer and more boot like than ’ugg’."

Now does the syntax mean that they're relying on a gap there, meaning "more boot like than 'ugg' [like]"? Or are they using 'ugg' as a complete predicate adjective as well? In other words: are they saying that black uggs don't look very ugg?

Well, the folks at Whooga are obviously proud of their product, and they're hoping to reclaim the association of the footwear with their brand. If you ask me, the boots are desirable for function more than form. And if you've seen the way I dress, you know I don't care much for style.

I'm not much of a boot wearer, but I also tend to avoid socks. And these uggs are designed to be worn without socks. Who knows, if I received a pair, I might just wear them. But only once I'm sure the fad is spent. And I'd probably go for the shorter style. Just in case, you know, you're feeling generous.

I've added to the title of the post. The fight over spelling is not merely forthcoming. It is here. A Google™ search for "ugg boots" brings up several DMCA complaints asking for search results to be excluded. Among the sites that do appear are the UGG® Australia site, an site, the Whooga site, an Authentic Ugg Boots site, and several others. Fritinancy's predicted tUGG-o-war is going on. (See comment.)

Any comment I make regarding the generic or common spelling of the style of boot is in no way an opinion regarding the legal limitations on that or any other spelling. I just report what I find and describe what I see.]

* Full disclosure, I have received a consideration for mentioning the brand in this post and for linking to the website.


  1. Well, UGG may derive from "ugly," but UGG(r) Australia went to the trouble to get trademark protection for its name, so I predict a tussle (or a tUGG of war) with the Whooga folks over the lower-case genericide. Also, "UGG boots" is not a pleonasm: UGG makes slippers, clogs, and flats as well as the familiar potato-shaped boots.

    Enjoy your footwear!

  2. a good point: if the generic 'ugh' is only <ugg> because of the brand, i suppose the brand holders will want to fight the trend.

    true UGG® boots is not a neoplasm. tho i'm sure some will argue that ugh boots is. let them argue. it can be fun to watch.

  3. Do you still get paid if I say I hate uggs, and especially Uggs? They're like the opposite of high heels. They couldn't make women look less attractive if they tried. They're like insta-cankles. We had these when I was a kid: they were called "moon boots," and you only wore them when it was freezing out. Nobody would've dared back then to try to glamorize the look.

    And also, how can I trust that you don't really dislike all uggs and Uggs and Whooogas? -- you're practically Al Gore.

  4. oh casey. i'm indifferent to all fashion. you know that.

    and moon boots were very different from these.

    and i think high heels are some of the least flattering things a woman can wear. i really do.

  5. I first saw ugg/ugh boots here in Australia in the 70s, and have always refered to them as "ug* boots". The word "ugg" by itself is meaningless here. But it is pretty funny seeing Americans wearing things we stopped wearing nearly 40 years ago.

  6. we're pretty slow to catch on here.

  7. whooga "is [an] Australian slang word which refers to joy and happiness"

    Sure it is. Pull the other one.

    Never heard of it! But my natural Australian pronunciation of this (non)word doesn't give it the same vowel sound as in "boot". It sounds like the one in "book". (Which two don't rhyme here, although I know they do in some parts of the UK. Maybe where this company is from?)


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