Paperwork: There’s a good reason I’m moaning and groaning


You heard that right. And no doubt you’re wondering how badly I’m hurt. (Thank you.)

But, nope, I’m OK. Just a bump. No pain at all. Even though I said it. And you heard it.

“OUCH!” I say it loudly. With certainty. A declaration to the room, even when I’m alone.

It feels like part of my routine – not daily, but at least weekly. That little cry of pain.

For example, it’s often part of my dinner routine. The sitting down part.

The small, round, glass-topped table sits in the middle of our kitchen. Perfect for two (the normal now) and comfortable with four.

Did I say perfect? Well, perfect in size, but not in design. And that explains why “ouch” often is part of our dinner dialogue.

It’s not a truly painful “ouch,” but it’s irritating because it’s frequent. So frequent that all angry thoughts that follow remain unspoken. Mainly because they’ve been replayed too many times.

Early comments: “I hate this table.” “Damn, who designed this thing?” And various other short forms of profanity.

Now I just groan “Ouch” or “Uggg.” Or just steam a little and hear the inner anger: “You’d think I’d know by now how to sit and not jam my knee into that table leg.”

And there lies the problem. The table legs. They bow out, which leaves a nice space to slide into the table. But we don’t slide straight into the table. We plop on the chair and swing in ... right into that bowed out leg.

“Ouch.” Sometime it’s just a mumble. Because we are not talking about bone-cracking pain here. And ... bear with me ... that’s actually the interesting part of this story. (Sorry. My curiosity pulls me in crazy directions.)

Let me highlight an observation, in case you didn’t catch it. I find myself, after a bump here and there, immediately and automatically saying that word.

“Ouch.” A word we clearly understand, right? The dictionary explains the word was first recorded in English in the mid 17th century. Other sources say it’s rooted in the German word “autsch” or more directly from the Pennsylvania German word “outch.”

Whatever ... it’s an exclamation used to express pain. And “ouch” or the much simpler “ow” are words we absorb and learn and repeat as we grow up.

It’s part of parent lingo. Aren’t Moms supposed to kiss the toddler’s “owie”? Yeah, it’s a process. And somewhere along the line we accept the best word to use is “ouch.”

Of course, it’s been studied. (I’ve come to believe that everything has been studied and researched.) A quick search turns up the perfect source: The Journal of Pain (online) for the U.S. Association for the Study of Pain.

And this headline: “On the Importance of Being Vocal: Saying ‘Ow’ Improves Pain Tolerance.”

That tells you what you need to know, but for the curious the study involved people shoving their hands into painfully cold water leading to this summary:

“Participants immersed their hand in painfully cold water longer when saying “ow” than when doing nothing. Whereas button pressing had a similar effect, hearing one’s own or another person’s “ow” did not. Thus, vocalizing in pain is not only communicative. Like other behaviors, it helps cope with pain.”

The word does not make pain go away but clearly is a coping mechanism. Helps you deal with it.

But ... again I am fascinated by the simple truth that often there is no pain. And I am left laughing at myself for saying, “Ouch!”

(Kind of reminds me of another study from long, long ago involving dogs and a Russian physiologist. Some guy named Ivan Pavlov.)

That pain study, however, reminds us how important our vocal reactions can be.

“To summarize, we found that a simple vocal act such as saying ‘ow’ helps individuals cope with pain. Participants tolerated a noxious stimulus longer when vocalizing than when being silent. ...

“Vocalizations serve to attract help or ward off an attacker. Additionally, they are likely preserved when other behaviors are obstructed due to injury or restraint. Together, these features promote vocalizing responses as a first line of defense when individuals get hurt.”

So ... there’s a good reason you moan when your stomach aches or head hurts (besides letting your spouse know you need pampering).

And when I crack my knee against that table leg again ... and I will ... I know what to do. I will grumble something related to “Ouch” and move on.

Knowing, of course, that what was really hurt was not my knee. Just my pride.

• Lonny Cain is the retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa and was a reporter for the Herald-News in the 1970s. Email him at or mail to The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.