Earlier this year I said I’d make it my mission to become more ladylike. Now, I’ll be honest and say that that hasn’t really happened.
Yes I’ve dabbled in getting my nails done, I’ve dyed my hair a couple of times, I’ve bought some new dresses and got some new makeup BUT I may have deviated a little by buying some new black biker boots. Plus, I tend to commit an awful crime at least five times a day. A crime so bad that I think I may have developed a problem.
“Huh?” I hear you ask.
Oh look, you have the same problem too? The constant use of the word ‘huh’ is just getting too much for me, and is not definitely not ladylike (says my mam, who taught me better than that). It’s not even the amount of times that I say it, it’s somehow developed into a horrible sound an animal would make…the word just seems to stretch the more I say it…and the way my face screws up seems to match the way that I say it.
It is one of the most irritating words in the English language but it seems there is no escaping it. If you have a look at the dictionary bible, you’ll see the following explanations:
1. Often used when surprised by or in disbelief of something.
2. Used when you didn’t hear what somebody said.
3. When you don’t understand what the person said but you heard them clearly.
4. Used to denote that the previous statement was counterintuitive or surprising, requiring a pause to absorb its significance.
And my favourite…
5. The most common expression used after you have just asked someone you fancy out.
We as humans speak many languages, but it appears that the feeling of confusion is one of the things that we all have in common. The word ‘huh’ is in worldwide use, a study on PLoS ONE found.
Researchers discovered that languages spoken in countries from Ethiopia and Portugal to Iceland and Italy all include ‘huh’, or something that sounds very like it. According to these researchers, without ‘huh’ or similar words, it would be impossible to show that we haven’t heard or understood what had been said and this would lead to constant misunderstandings.
“It might seem frivolous or even trivial to carry out scientific research into a word like ‘huh’ but in fact this little word is an indispensable tool in human communication,” said a spokesman from the journal.
They travelled to remote villages and cities on five continents, visiting native speakers of 10 different languages. A total of 196 recordings of casual conversations revealed that there are versions of ‘huh’’ in every language they studied – and they sound bizarrely similar.
The tapes were analysed for words that sounded like ‘huh?’. All contained a version of the word, and it was also found in another 21 languages form around the globe that were studied in less detail. The researchers said that while there were subtle differences in each country, all had a near-identical sound.
“‘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…As we have seen, ‘huh’ is so common as to be practically universal, and yet calibrated to specific language systems such that it qualifies as a word. The language-specific nature of words is of course expected; it is the strong similarity that is in need of an explanation.”
While it may seem like a throwaway word – said the South China Morning Post – ‘huh’ is the glue that holds a broken conversation together. “The fact that it appears over and over reveals a remarkable case of ”convergent evolution” in language.” The researchers said that the word is similar across languages because it is an innate grunt, or a conversation grunt.
Herbert Clark, a psychologist at Stanford University who studies language said the word ‘huh’ is a much-maligned ‘utterance’ in English. It’s seen as a filler word, little more than what’s called a conversational grunt, like ‘mm-hmm’, but it plays a crucial role in conversations.
As much as I dislike using the word, and the fact I feel like I have no choice because it comes out without me thinking, I agree that it is of universal understanding. At least people can tell when you haven’t got a clue about something. Good huh?