Linguists recently announced that “Huh?” or a similar word seems to be a universal way of confirming that another speaker is understood. They studied 10 languages on five continents, including Dutch, Icelandic, Mandarin Chinese, the West African Siwu and the Australian aboriginal Murrinh-Patha. These languages have very different grammatical structures, but all contain a syllable people use to make sure they are understanding what is being said. The variants sound like “huh?,” hah?,” “eh?” and other closely related sounds, and all end with a questioning intonation. I’m wondering if the questioning tone is like the American “Really?” meaning, “I get it.”
Others had proposed that “mama” and “dada” might be universal sounds, but “huh” is much more widely distributed. This came as a surprise to me.
For what it’s worth, when I taught college ESL classes, my students showed me how widespread our word “chocolate” is. The accent may be slightly different but you would instantly recognize the word as “chocolate.” So no matter where you are in the world, you will always be able to get your fix without someone saying, “Huh?” to you.
A Frigate Bird (please spell it correctly) © Judi Birnberg
The following groanworthy errors are from Just My Typo, compiled by Drummond Moir. It’s all too easy to write a word you know well, a word that is close to the one you meant. We’ve all done this. Careful proofreading will prevent a red face.
As I’ve often nagged you, if you proofread silently at your normal pace you will read what you think you wrote, not what you actually wrote. You need to slow down and read out loud. Quietly is fine. The authors of the following sentences obviously neglected to do so:
• Doctors now treat their patients with ultra-violent rays.
• A polygon is a man who has many wives.
• In biology today we digested a frog.
• In the Middle Ages, people lived in rough huts with mating on the floor.
In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, a little squib (are squibs ever large?) announced that Eddie Redmayne and his wife had had their first child. The next sentence was,”The actor confirmed in January they were expecting their first child at the Golden Globes.”
This, my friends, is a misplaced modifier. They were not expecting this baby at the Golden Globes, as the text states. They were attending the Golden Globes when Redmayne made the announcement. When you use a modifier, put it immediately next to the words it refers to. To fix this sentence all you have to do is write, “The actor confirmed at the Golden Globes in January they were expecting their first child.” Done!
Often, when the modifier is in the wrong place, you may inadvertently cause people to laugh at you: The man chased his neighbor’s dog in orange pajamas and carrying a broom.”
© Judi Birnberg A Confusing Web of Thoughts
When you write, aim for precision. Vague writing can leave your readers confused or bored—or both:
John’s father said he couldn’t go to the concert Saturday night.
Who can’t go, John or his father?
Instead of writing The long vacation was scheduled for a warm location, try They booked a two-week vacation in Tahiti.
Before you write, think carefully about your message. Then write it succinctly and specifically. Anticipate what questions your reader might have and then answer those questions in your message. Your goal is to avoid follow-up messages: Who can’t go to the Saturday night concert? Where are they going for their vacation? How long will they be away?
©Judi Birnberg 2016
So often we combine words without realizing they are redundant. Here is a partial list to get you thinking. It’s a good idea to proofread your documents one time specifically to see if you might have fallen into the trap. It’s time to sweep out the clutter:
Nodded her head
Sales, storm, hurricane, earthquake event
Plan for the future
Suffocated to death
A new record
Shrugged his shoulders