Huh? A Universal Interjection

Even the Fence Has a Sense of Humor                      Photo: Claudia Comte/Creative Commons

What do you think of interjections? You know, words like Ha! Yeah! Aw… Huh? In formal writing, these are scorned as third step-cousins, twice removed. But in spoken conversation, they are the grease that lubricates the wheels of language. Wow! Can you imagine getting through a day without them? Nope. Now that much of our communication involves email and texting, vehicles that simulate spoken language patterns, we employ interjections there, too.

A newsletter from my favorite grammar website,, discussed an article about interjections from the March 2014 Smithsonian. “Everybody in Almost Every Language Says ‘Huh’? HUH?!” cited original research from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, that found that “huh” is a “universal word.” People speaking ten different languages all grunted something that sounded like “huh?” when they didn’t understand what was said to them. Gosh!

To linguists, this is a big deal, as it is the first convention they have studied that transcends cultures and languages. They expect to find other linguistically-common interjections, since such words are so helpful in expressing states of hesitation, questions, interruptions, exclamations, and commands. Whew.

Geez…So, the last shall be first. The lowly interjection rockets to the head of the class and basks in its new light. No longer superfluous, it takes its rightful place next to prepositions and adverbs in facilitating communication. Mmm-hmm!

Personally, I’d like most interjections to stay in the realm of spoken speech… What do you think? Bye!

One thought on “Huh? A Universal Interjection”

  1. This is a thought-provoking question, Susan, and one I need to ruminate upon before really answering. Of course, that means paying attention to the book I’m currently reading to see if any are used. In a general way, I would say NO, but then again, if one were to call a distinction between characterizations and persona, the use of careless interjections might be a significant way to establish identity. Again, I need to think about this.


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