According to the Wikipedia ‘tsk!’ is American English and ‘tut!’ is English. Both are supposed to be onomatopoeic representations of the disapproving sound one makes with the teeth and tongue to indicate disapproval. Personally, I prefer the ‘tsk’ to the ‘tut’ but let’s focus on the doughnut and not the hole, fellow zeitgeisters.
I learnt early on the power of the ‘tsk’ from my mother. Strangely she didn’t overuse it in real life, preferring to reserve it for watching television. Some of jewels of 1970s and 1980s television were tsked over with great gusto. The bombing of NUMBER 96, Fergo the Freak’s reign of Terror in PRISONER, JR’s latest dirty trick in DALLAS; all were occasions upon which Mum would shake her head and tsk at the acts of low character she saw taking place first on the Healing black and white set, then on our Kriesler 36-inch colour telly.
Over the years, I’ve become used to Mum’s habit of dismissing a character’s act of evil with the slow, tut. Usually a trio of clicks with one full head shake. Recently I was stunned, to hear the same thing exactly while at a screening. I was at my old employer Media Dell’Arte in Fremantle. I had agreed to lead a post-movie chat comparing Dennis Lehane’s novel Mystic River with Clint Eastwood’s movie adaptation. Whenever anything bad happened to a good character, an older lady, similar in age to my mother, although less Chinese, reacted with a flurry of tut-age. Towards the climax of the film, she sounded like Skippy discovering that Sonny was using the helicopter hangar to cook crystal meth.
However, last night, I discovered a new way to employ the tsk. I was at the musical play THE LAST FIVE YEARS which was Downstairs at The Maj. At the climactic point of the story we discover that one of the characters has morally compromised himself, at the very moment he sang of his indiscretion, I could hear a solitary gunshot ‘tsk’ from the back of the room. This was a power tut that reverberated off the walls. “How could you?” it said, “You weak, weak man.”
Long live Queen Tut!