"Huh" is the universal word


(I am AMAZED that Discourse didn’t tell me off for typing that. Must be the lower-case :wink: )

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I’ve noticed that Austrians and Bavarians, whether speaking German or English, very rarely use “huh?” Their analog, from what I’ve picked up, is a nasally “ehh?” (like “echt?” without the T).

And hasn’t OK been generally considered to be the universal word for some time now?


But “eh” means something completely different in Canadian, eh?


However “um” is not, um, universal (that’s the word I was looking for!) for indicating a pause that will end in a sec when I remember that word. In Chinese it’s the fruit of the Um Tree or something. Um is something like “Uh-nega”. I once got into a hideous “Who’s on First” loop with someone when asking what the “Uh-nega” word that I was always hearing meant.

“What does that, um, word mean?”
“What word?”
“Well, spit it out man! What word?”
“The ‘um’ word.”
“Yes, I know it’s a word but what word?”

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Huh? Huh. The problem is that rising inflection to indicate a question isn’t universal, and since these mean two different things even in English, how universal can it be?

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no, we use eh that way as well, eh?

i overheard a german joke to a canadian that you can tell if someone is from the USA because they sound like a goose when confused. huh, huh, huh… (the huh word sounds like a goose honking.)

huh sounds really really weird when you aren’t used to hearing it. its use is certainly not universal. neither of the countries that border the US even use it.

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wait? what? are you saying huh and huh mean two different things? what? and anyway not everyone can do tone.

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In Japanese, the “um” word is ano (あの…) I got stung by that when learning Japanese, and I asked what it meant because I kept hearing it.

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Huh? (I don’t understand.)
Huh! (That’s surprising.)
Huh. (I need to think about it.)


“Huh” is not innate (other primates don’t say it)

They don’t say much of anything else, do they? While the capacity for speech in general does seem innate to homo sapiens.

Now say “huh” again, motherfucker.


They also say “eh” in Japanese to mean, huh? I often say “eh?” when I don’t understand, which is most of the time since my Japanese sucks.

Just in case anyone hasn’t seen it -


I liked the word Huh? so much that I used it as the title for my first book. If it’s truly this universal, I’d have expected to sell more copies.

Well sometimes like when it’s the only word in a sentence we use it like “huh?” but more often it’s at the end of a statement where it’s to make sure that the listener heard us and (and this is the uniquely Canadian part) to seek agreement from them.

One of the best ways that I’ve heard to distinguish between the three Atlantic English dialects is to check on the number of backwards “ah” sounds. In “I’d rather dance with my father” the Brits pronounce all three "a"s differently, the Canucks pronounce just the last one differently and the Yanks (if from Texas anyway) pronounce them all the same.

Other tests for Yankee spies are: to ask them for a Duo-tang; to see if they refer to “grades” instead of “marks” in school; and see if they use “studio” instead of “bachelor apartment”.



IO’m funnier.

I’ve never heard a fellow canadian use huh. ever. I do hear both eh (A) and heh (HEY) quite frequently. I agree they are typically used as you describe, at the end of a sentence seeking agreement or acknowledgement, but like you said when used alone it is means “what was that?”

huh, is actually used almost identically, by it self for the same “what” meaning, or at the end of a sentence for agreement. You like that, huh? Pretty good, huh? They just don’t use it that way as commonly. :slight_smile:

One thing I cannot stand is how my fellow canadians pronounce pasta and orgami. They should be PAWsta and oriGOMi, every time I hear the nasaly oriGAMi or pAHsta i cringe. Not everything has to have that hard A, eh?

I love the Japanese use of ara. That is a great huh alternative. (Especially the mascunlized version oro which we see in commonly in manga)

Hesitation sound and surprise sound are separate in french.
When you hesitate, you make the sound “euh…” (like the first sound in “earth”),
And when you are surprised, or if you misheard something, you say “hein ?” (half-voyel not present in english, same sound as the number one “un” in french, with an upward inflexion).

The repetitive use of both of those sounds is considered a sign of poor education, since the upper class children are told from a very young age to replace them with “pardon” (sorry) and “comment” (how).

The choice of languages seems a little selective when it comes to the vowel quality. What about open back vowels, as in Finnish (etc.) “ha”?