Mmm-Mmm Good: Decoding Table Talk

Another Saturday morning, another batch of banana pancakes. “Mmm-Mmm!” my husband says, eyeing a stack. No matter how often I make this dish, his gut reaction is the same: this exclamation so clichéd it defies replacement. It’s a learned response, right? Like Mmm-Mmm, Good! That’s what Campbell’s soups are, after all.

So, why don’t we say Mmm-Hmm instead? Isn’t that the universal utterance of accord and acceptance? Go ahead, say it. I can just hear you as you nod agreement, Mmm-Hmm. The first sound flows to the second without resistance.

Mmm-Mmm by contrast, with its interruptive glottal stop, is what babies say as they lock their lips and shake their heads in refusal. (Puréed liver?! Mmm-Mmm!)

No sooner have I spoken this rhetorical question, than I take a bite and hear Mmmmmm rise from my throat.  It’s an extended phonation of pure pleasure, and it has only one syllable.

“I heard that,” my husband says, taking a bite, and Mmmming along with me.

Mmm-Mmm is an advertiser’s fallacy showing forethought and the intention of appreciation, whereas Mmmmm, like the sound of a great kiss, is the real deal.