We’ve been discussing the changing nature of the English language a lot here this week (from the rise of public English to the acceptance of “like”), but if there is one thing that’s consistent in language, it’s the word “huh.” Linguists have studied 31 languages that all contain the interjection, making it one of the first universal words.
"D’Arcy traces the expanded use of “like” to speakers born in the 1960s, but says the language feature came into its own with speakers born in the 1970s, “so that by the time you get to speakers born in the 1980s, you get these entire sequences of quotations that recreate an internal thought process.” This accords with the pop cultural history of the usage, which first became famous when Moon Unit Zappa (born 1967) accompanied her father Frank Zappa’s 1982 hit song “Valley Girl,” with an improvised monologue taken from slang she’d overheard at parties and at the Sherman Oaks Galleria in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley. The same year, Sean Penn starred in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, partly filmed at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, and the rest is, like, history.”
Michael Bourne, “Like, OMG! ‘Like’ Is, Like, Totally Cool, Linguist Says”
What is certain is that it is imperative for those of us in the educated elite – and if you’re here, chances are you are part of the educated elite – to be clear about what we’re discussing when we speak about standard written English. We are speaking about a language that is both thriving and powerful, and that many of us paid dearly to master. It is ideally suited to some linguistic tasks, such as reasoned argument and imaginative fiction, and perhaps less well suited to others, such as, say, advertising copy. But standard written English isn’t “right.” It isn’t “better.” It is merely one language among many.
See what the words wanted you to do, she says. Smith follows words around like a detective, noting every street they walk down and every activity they engage in. She waits patiently for the telling moment, the odd behavior, and there (ahem) she finds its purpose, and the story seems to come along with it.
"Language starts to shut down the strength and power and strangeness of what it means to be a person in the world." At The Rumpus, Ben Marcus discusses how he uses language in his writing and his new short story collection, Leaving the Sea (featured in our 2014 book preview.) Pair with: Our own Adam Boretz’s interview with Marcus and our review of The Flame Alphabet.
The translator was admiring his dead poets. Not that I am alive myself, he remarked, but at least I keep moving.
In the field of phonaesthetics, which exists, the phrase ‘cellar door’ is sometimes regarded as the most beautiful-sounding phrase in the English language