Of all the words in all the languages in the world, there’s apparently only one syllable that’s universally understood: Huh?
Stories in The New York Times
and Los Angeles Times
point to a paper published in the journal PLOS One
that identifies “huh” as a universal word.
[RELATED: Get advanced writing and editing tips from Mark Ragan and Jim Ylisela.]
They’re basing this on a study of 10 languages on five continents: Dutch, Icelandic, Mandarin Chinese, the West African Siwu and the Australian aboriginal Murrinh-Patha.
From PLOS One:
“Huh? is a universal word not because it is innate but because it is shaped by selective pressures in an interactional environment that all languages share: that of other-initiated repair.”
So, “huh” comes from the need for conversational repair. It’s good to know that I’m not alone in the world in my need to constantly repair conversations.