Are there any short expletives that sound the same in different languages?

By: | Post date: 2015-11-02 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

Nick Enfield [Page on]  (who I did linguistics with, and boy does he look different twenty years on) just got an Ig Noble [Improbable Research] for claiming the universality of Huh? (The Syllable Everyone Recognizes, Is ‘Huh?’ a universal word?)

Of course the realisation of Huh? does differ by language; in the Mediterranean, for example, it is E? But the general idea is a mid vowel (as close to a schwa as your language allows), with a questioning tone.

I’ll note anecdotally that the Greek for Ouch! is ox! or ax!—but that because of cartoons, Greek kids now spontaneously say ouch! (I heard my young cousins do it twenty years ago.) Even though /tʃ/ is not even a phoneme of standard Greek. So short expletives, discomfitingly, can be borrowed between languages, just as everything else can.

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