I'm trying to find the right word to use in a (serious) comic I'm writing.

The character is an eighteen year old American girl, talking to some older women who she's just met. Suddenly, in mid-sentence, she sees someone entering the room who surprises and scares her. What does she SAY?

At the moment I've got her saying "Yikes!" But this doesn't sound to me like something any modern teenager would actually say, outside an episode of Scooby Doo. "Eek!" sounds equally implausible. Does anyone have any suggestion of a suitable interjection? I want her to stop short of actually screaming.

  • You could try asking this on english.stackexchange.com
    – Llewellyn
    May 8, 2020 at 16:57
  • 2
    I hate to suggest this, but your best bet is to find a group of teenagers and ask. Tell them you're a writer; tell them you need something 'natural' and 'current', and see what they say. Don't ask a single teenage girl, because she'll think you're creeping on her; find a group, and let them play off each other. My instincts say the natural reaction would be "Aw, sh@t" or "F@ck!", or in the best-behaved case, "O.M.G!!", all with a massive eye roll; but teen jargon changes on maybe a ten year basis, and I'm too old to know the ins and outs of it. May 9, 2020 at 5:50
  • @TedWrigley to some extend, I agree with your suggestion, but also, any teenager is just as likely to use their own in-group phrases as they are to use the more common teen-lingo :)
    – storbror
    May 11, 2020 at 11:16
  • Also, I advise against voting to close this. I understand how it could be considered "what to write", but it could easily be edited into being about how to authentically portray someone (like a teen) being startled by seeing someone.
    – storbror
    May 11, 2020 at 11:18
  • Consider that people don't actually say "eek!", so much as make a shriek or squeak that sounds like "eek!" - in the same way that dogs don't say "woof" or "bark". Saying "eek" - yes, implausible. Going "Eek!" / "Aah!" / "Bwah!" / "Yaiy!"? Not uncommon. It's onomatopoeia. May 11, 2020 at 12:09

4 Answers 4


From the context this person is entering without knocking or intentionally playing a joke? In this case she is startled. For that I like these: Eeep! Ooph!, Fuuhh!

For something truly frightening (like something actually scary like her brother with a bloody mask on): maybe turn the word she’s saying into a sound [“I’m juuUUUEEEAAAHHH!!],


While I think the answers provided here have some good input, I would instead focus on your actual character and use the situation for the reader to get to know her better.

Show character!

  • Make her unique - Make her use phrases that others don't (could be 'yikes', or 'holy!')
  • Show how she's self-aware, concerning the situation she's in, with older people...

If I were to write such a scene, my character would most likely use a swear-word such as "Shit!" or even "fuck!" along with some appropriate physical movement that signals being startled. After the character's initial reaction, some characters would then go on to first apologize to the elderly for the use of foul language, and then ask "what the hell" that person was doing there / why they burst in, or tell them that they scared the "crap" out of them...

To me, this shows character, and a scene like this is an obvious chance to do just that.


Why have her say anything at all?

A large part of human communication is also based on body language. Maybe make her just stop mid-sentence and show a clear expression of alarm. Big exclamation marks (!!!) can come in handy for this sort of thing in a comic format depending on art style. You don't need her really say anything for it to be clear that there is an issue.

Alternatively, you could have her say something like, "Oh God..." or a curse word depending on the audience.


In modern teenage parlance, and assuming you actually do need to provide an utterance that just comes out unbidden, you could try d'oh:

—used to express sudden recognition of a foolish blunder or an ironic turn of events

It's the second part of that definition that applies here: "an ironic turn of events." In other words, "What? I can't believe it's them. That's typical …"

Any teenager, especially any teenager who's seen The Simpsons, will be familiar with this:


  • 2
    That's not exactly an expression of surprise (let alone fright), though, is it? "d'oh" might come afterwards, after a realization or reflection.
    – Llewellyn
    May 9, 2020 at 16:49
  • 1
    I've always thought it is. Every time I hear D'oh!, I consider the person using it to have been considered surprised by the thing immediately preceding it. (I can't imagine it ever being used in response to something that was planned.) Whatever has happened is unexpected. And if it's a comic book, as in this question, then the person would say that and be drawn with a frightened expression. May 9, 2020 at 16:54
  • 2
    I think 'd'oh' is rather dated even if it does mean the same as 'yikes'. May 9, 2020 at 18:56

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