Entry 299: Huh?

According to an article in The Huffington Post, a study by the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics has determined that one word is more or less universal everywhere on Earth. It means the same and sounds similar in just about every language. And that word is…

…the title of this post.

In other words, no matter where you live on this planet, and no matter what language you mapspeak,  people are going to say stupid things that just make you scratch your head and say…well, you know.

The researchers who conducted the study are quoted as saying:

“In all languages investigated, it is a monosyllable with at most a glottal onset consonant, an unrounded low front central vowel, and questioning intonation.”


Well, first, let me set the researchers at Max Planck straight on one point: in America at least, people under the age of 30 say everything with a questioning intonation. It’s as if they are incapable of making a declarative statement? Like they need your approval for everything they say? Even if they’re just, like, telling you about their morning? Like, they’ll say, “So I was eating a Pop Tart? And, like. the filling oozed out? And I was all, ewww?”

So really, you can’t go by that.

According to the study, the function of “Huh?’ is to “signal a problem in communication in an inquisitive manner.” This is far preferable to what AT&T does, which is signal a problem in communication by dropping your call. It also seems to me that we could have saved a lot of money and thousands of lives if, when there was a problem in communication regarding WMDs in Iraq, George W. Bush had passed on “shock and awe” and used “shrug and huh” instead.

I think “huh” is very underused in Congress, too. For instance, statements like “I think video games is a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people,” which was actually uttered by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) without so much as a questioning intonation, should be met with a resounding “HUH?”

The word “huh” is so universal, it’s even found in the name of the online publication that published the article about it being universal. And that very same article goes on to tell us about one other universal language trait: baby talk.

“Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles found in 2007 that Shuar village habitants — a nonindustrialized and nonliterate culture — were, for the most part, able to differentiate baby talk from adult talk among English-speakers.”

Did we really need a scholarly and probably well-funded study to tell us that babies sound different from adults in every language? Do you know why that is? It’s because babies don’t speak any language, you morons!

Shuar1[1]Yes, thank you for your research paper informing us that high-pitched voices, repetitive consonants (“mmmmmmmmm”) and occasional, totally random screeches are not reminiscent of a language that any adult would use. I’m almost certain I could distinguish a tape recording of a Shuar baby from that of a Shuar adult, even though the Shuar adult would be speaking Shuar, a language that keeps to itself high in the Andes mountains and is not even available on Rosetta Stone. I’m not saying I could understand the adult any better than I could understand the baby, just that I could discern one from the other.Rosetta-Stone[1]

I remember when my daughter was a baby, and she’d give me a whole speech, babbling for hours like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex) during a filibuster, complete with bubbles and spittle coming out of her mouth. She’d look totally serious while she was orating, and then she’d stop and look at me as if she expected some sort of reply and, really, what could I say other than “Huh?”

Come to think of it, she’s 27 now, and that’s still often my response.

See you soon.

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