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November 11, 2013

Huh? Are There Universal words?

There are linguistic theories that there are some words that cross multiple languages and cultures. You'd think the words most likely to transcend languages and cultures would be those that...

...deal with the universals of life - 'mama' and 'father' for example.

And perhaps that is true; except that there appears to be something even more universal than biological parents.

What could be more universal than the befuddlement, confusion and utter cluelessness inherent in a word like 'huh'?

I have to admit, 'huh?' certainly captures the bulk of my work, travel and relationship experiences.

Many linguists don't even consider 'huh?' a word; most standard words have root words, suffixes or prefixes and, of course, a clearly defined meaning.

The word 'huh?' doesn't follow any of these standard rules - but everyone who hears it immediately understands it - apparently in almost any language around the world.

Take a look at this blog post from the New York times - http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/09/arts/that-syllable-everyone-recognizes.html?_r=1& and let me know what you think.

'Huh?" is certainly the word that I would nominate as not only the most widely used, but also the most universally applicable.

Linguists used to say that the word 'OK' was the most widely used word in the world, but I bet the most common word is 'huh?'.

You could probably travel the world with just these two words. What do you think?

The worst that could happen is that the other person might say 'Huh?' - but then again they could say 'OK'.

Until next time -


Posted by mmorf at November 11, 2013 10:02 PM


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