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When I said "Oh boy, that's my seat." in a low voice to a native speaker (who is not from the US or UK; we have known each other for a long time). I said 'oh boy' as an interjection. He retorted with a rather stern face: "I am not a boy."

I was embarrassed a bit. How could it be possible that a native speaker does not understand such expression. What went wrong?

  • Could it be that his stern face was done in jest? (Sometimes we'll pretend to be irate to make a joke funnier, even when we are not annoyed at all.) – J.R. Jul 15 at 18:57
  • Also, be very careful of using the word "boy" in reference to anyone of African descent as it has, historically speaking, been used as a word of insult for such people in the US. – Gort the Robot Jul 15 at 22:34
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It's possible that your tone of voice led to him misinterpreting your statement as something like "Oh! Boy, that's my seat." That is, it's possible that he believed that you exclaimed "Oh," then addressed him as "boy".

It's also possible that he understood what you were saying, and was simply engaging in a joke at your expense. If you've known each other a long time, it's quite possible that he'd feel comfortable doing so; these sorts of jokes that involve deliberate misinterpretation of grammar are sometimes referred to as "dad jokes", after a stereotypical exchange of a child telling their father "I'm hungry", to which he responds "Hello Hungry, I'm Dad."

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One possible explanation is that your intonation was off. If you put emphasis on the "boy" as a separate word, then it could be assumed your addressing the person as "boy". The two words should be pronounced as if they were one word, "ohboy".

Another is that the expression is slightly misused. "Oh boy" is generally an internal expression of surprise, and not usually directed at anyone else. If someone else can hear you, and might think you are talking to them, then "oh no", or "excuse me" is better.

Lastly the person might simply have misunderstood you, or deliberately misconstrued your simple expression to imply you were addressing him as "boy". Ordinarily if I do this, it's with humor and grace, in order to defuse a potentially embarrassing situation, but other people might prefer to respond with indignation.

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