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THE term interjection signifies something that is pitched in among things of which it does not naturally form a constituent part. The name has been given it by grammarians, in order to express its relation to grammatical structures. It is found in them, but it forms no part of them. The interjection may be defined as a form of speech which is articulate but not grammatical. An interjection implies a meaning which it would require a whole grammatical sentence to expound, and it may be regarded as the rudiment of such a sentence. But it is a confusion of thought to rank it among the parts of speech. It is not in any sense a part; it is a whole (though an indistinct) expression of feeling or of thought. An interjection bears to its context the same sort of relation as a pictorial illustration does. It may stand either insulated in the sentence, or connected with it by a preposition, as–
“Oh for a humbler heart and prouder song!'
We rightly call an adjective or an adverb a part of speech, because these have no meaning by themselves without the aid of nouns and verbs, and because their very designation
implies the existence of nouns and verbs. But an interjection is intelligible without any grammatical adjunct; and such completeness as it is capable of is obtained without any external assistance.
Ancient grammarians ranked the interjections as adverbs, but the moderns have made them a separate class. If it were a question to which of the parts of speech the interjection is most cognate, it must be answered to the verb. For if we take any simple interjection, such as, for example, the cry ‘Oh, Oh!’ in the House of Commons, and translate it into plain English, it can only be done by a verb, either in the imperative or in the indicative first person. Either you must say it is equivalent to ‘Don’t say Such things, or else to ‘I doubt,’ ‘I wonder,’ ‘I demur,’ ‘I dispute,’ ‘I deny,” “I protest,’ &c.; by one or more of these or such verbs must ‘Oh, Oh!’ be explained; and if it must be classed among parts of speech at all, it should count as a rudimentary verb.
It is from that germ of verbal activity which is innate in the interjection, that it adapts itself readily to perform the office of a conjunction. It has this peculiar faculty as a conjunction, that it rounds off and renders natural an abrupt beginning, and forms as it were the bridge between the spoken and the unspoken:
“Oh if in after life we could but gather
It is because of this variety of possible meanings in the interjection that writing is less able to represent interjections than to express grammatical language. Even in the latter, writing is but an imperfect medium, because it fails to convey the accompaniments, such as the look, the tone, the emphasis, the gesture. This defect is more evident in the case of interjections, where the written word is but a very
small part of the expression; and the manner, tone, gesture, &c., is nearly everything. Hence also it comes to pass that the interjection is of all that is printed the most difficult thing to read well aloud. For not only does it require a rare command of modulation; but the reader has moreover to be perfectly acquainted with the situation and temperament of the person using the interjection. Shakspeare's interjections cannot be rendered with any truth, except by one who has mastered the whole play. In the accompaniments lies the rhetoric of the interjection, which is used with astonishing effect by children and savages. For it is to these that the interjection more especially belongs, and in proportion to the march of culture is the decline of interjectional speech. But though the use of interjections is very much reduced by civilisation, and though there are whole fields of literature from which they are utterly banished, as History, Mathematics, Physical Science,—yet they have a sphere in which they are retained, and in this, the literature of the emotions, their importance will always be considerable. It should moreover be added, that while most of the natural accompaniments of interjectional speech, such as gestures, grimaces, and gesticulations, are restrained by civilisation, there yet remains one, which alone is able to render justice to the interjection, and which culture tends to improve and develope, and that is, modulation. It is this which makes it well' worth a poet's while to throw meaning into his interjections. Moreover, though it is true on the whole that interjectional communications are restrained by civilisation; yet it is also to be noted on the other hand, that there are certain interjections which are the fruits of, and only fit to find a place in, the highest and most mature forms of human culture. And this chapter will naturally follow this important division, and fall into the two heads, of (1) interjections of nature, or primitive interjections; and (2) artificial or historical interjections. The distinction between these sorts will be generally this, that the latter have a philological derivation, and the former have not. Of the natural interjections, that which challenges the first mention is— o; oh! This is well known as one of the earliest articulations of infants, to express surprise or delight. Later in life it comes to indicate also fear, aspiration, appeal, and an indefinite variety of emotions. It would almost seem that in proportion as the spontaneous modulation of the voice comes to perfection, in the same degree the range of this most generic of all interjections becomes enlarged, and that according to the tone in which oh is uttered, it may be understood to mean almost any one of the emotions of which humanity is capable. This interjection owes its great predominance to the influence of the Latin language, in which it was very frequently used. And there is one particular use of it, which more especially bears a Latin stamp. That is the O of the vocative case, as when in prayers, for instance, we say O Lord, &c.; O Thou to whom all creatures bow, &c. A distinction should be made in orthography between the sign of the vocative, and the emotional interjection, writing 0 for the former, and oh for the latter, as— “O Nature, how in every charm supreme !'
This distinction of spelling should by all means be kept up, as it is based upon good ground. There is a difference between “O sir!’ ‘O king !’ and “Oh! sir,’ ‘Oh! Lord,' both in sense and pronunciation. As to the sense: the O prefixed merely imparts to the title a vocative effect; while the Oh conveys some particular sentiment, as of appeal, entreaty, expostulation, or some other. And as to sound: the O is an enclitic; that is to say, it has no accent of its own, but is pronounced with the word to which it is attached, as if it were its unaccented first syllable. The term ‘enclitic' signifies reclining on, and so the interjection 0 in “O Lord’ reclines on the support afforded to it by the accentual elevation of the word ‘Lord.' So that “O Lord' is pronounced like such a disyllable as alight, alike, away, &c., in which words the metrical stress could never be borne by the first syllable. Oh / on the contrary, is one of the fullest of monosyllables, and it would be hard to place it in a verse except with the stress upon it. The above examples from Beattie and Wordsworth illustrate this. Precedence has been given to the interjection oh, because it is the commonest of the simple or natural interjections,— not that it is one of the longest standing in the language. The oldest interjections in our language are la and wa, and each of these merits a separate notice. La is that interjection which in modern English is spelt 10. It was used in Saxon times, both as an emotional cry, and also as a sign of the respectful vocative. The most reverential style in addressing a superior was La leos, an expression not easy to render in modern English, but which is something like O my liege, or O my lord, or O sir. In modern times it has taken the form of lo in literature,