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I write this from gate 27 at SFO, on my way back to Philadelphia from a meeting that was interesting and productive, but didn't have a lot of direct linguistic relevance.  I did manage to fit in breakfast with Geoff Nunberg and lunch with Paul Kay, and  Paul pointed me to Andrea Baronchelli et al.,  "Modeling the emergence of universality in color naming patterns", PNAS 1/25/2010, which I'll post about after I've had a chance to read it — in combination with Paul's own recent paper, Terry Regier, Paul Kay, & Naveen Khetarpal, "Color naming and the shape of color space", Language 85(4) 2009, which has been at the top of my to-blog list for a week or so.

In the few minutes before my plane boards, I've got time to register one linguistic observation of possible interest:  earlier this morning, as I was checking out of the place I've been staying, something happened that made me wonder whether American "huh" might be heading in the direction of Canadian "eh".

I handed in my key and checked that the bill was paid, and at the end of the transaction, as I was leaving, the clerk said "Thanks, huh."  The (low falling) intonation was the same as he might have been expected to use with a vocative tag (e.g. "Thanks, man").

I'm used to Canadian "Thanks, eh" (see "The meaning of eh", 5/1/2005); and I suspect (without having a specific instance in mind) that many British speakers might be fine with "Thanks, innit".  But in my previous experience, the uses of "huh" include requests for clarification ("Huh? Sorry, I didn't hear that."), expressions of mild surprise ("Huh. That's odd."), or invitations to join in the expression of a presumably shared opinion ("Nice weather, huh.") The latter two can have either rising or falling intonation.

But I don't believe that I've ever heard "Thanks, huh" before.

Now, this was Berkeley, where everything from the flora to the obituaries reminds you that you're not in Kansas anymore.  But I've visited NoCal several times a year for the past few years, and if this kind of extension of "huh" is a local change in progress, then I've missed it.

So maybe the clerk was a Canadian transplant, who noticed that "huh" was the American equivalent of "eh" in some contexts, and overgeneralized a bit.  Or maybe this was just a random cultural mutation, a flash of noise in the linguistic meme pool.  Either way, keep your ears open — "thanks, huh" may be coming to an interaction near you.


  1. Arjun said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 2:24 pm

    I live in Oakland, spend a lot of time in Berkeley, and have never heard this usage.

    Maybe he was calling you hon? :)

    [(myl) I thought of that, but it seems pretty implausible. Also, he was speaking pretty clearly in a quiet environment, from just the other side of a narrow desk, and I'm quite sure that there was no final nasal murmur. So it would have to be both a peculiar choice of vocative and an unexpected pronunciation.

    Pending some repetition of the experience, I'm inclined to categorize it as a speech error of unknown origin. On the hand, it would presumably be natural enough for "huh" to go the way of "eh" at some point.]

  2. Chris said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

    I haven't heard this huh either, but on a related note, I've noticed that Indians (the folks from India) often end their sentences with man (when speaking English) at a rate far more frequent than American English speakers. It seems to be the Indian-English version of Canadian eh.

  3. Chandra said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

    As a Canadian, I don't really ever hear "Thanks, eh" with a falling intonation at the end of an unremarkable exchange such as paying a hotel bill. I've heard "Thanks, eh?" with a rising intonation when the addressee has done the speaker a particularly notable favour; this seems to be some sort of request for acknowledgement that the speaker is especially thankful.

  4. Gary said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

    I'm all for trying to steer the language in that direction, so I'm going to adopt "Thanks, huh" and see if I can't get it to catch on.

  5. JP Villanueva said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 2:58 pm

    I used to work in a very international office in Shanghai, China, and I often translated Canadian "eh" as "huh." For example:

    (Canadian) "That's pretty cool, eh?" (2nd tone, rising)
    (American) "That's pretty cool, huh." (4th tone, falling)

    I'm surprised by your report of "Thanks, huh" (low falling). Not to say I don't believe you.

    I wonder if your source is Filipino American (like me!) or Latino…
    (Tagalog) Salamat po, eh… maraming salamat po.
    (Filipino English) Thank you, ha? Thank you very much.
    (Gracias) Gracias, eh… muchas gracias.
    (My instinctual translation) Hey thanks, thank you very much.

    However, all of those cases, I would use a rising tone, not a low falling tone. Hmmm….

    As a side note, a couple of Canadian women in the office used "hey" (That's pretty cool, hey?) And one of them told me specifically that she did it to sound less Canadian, and to sound more American. I told her, tagging sentences with "hey?," is ABSOLUTELY NOT a feature of American English, which shocked her, and yes, I said that from intuition rather than even the most cursory research… I could be wrong.

  6. IrrationalPoint said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

    "Thanks, innit" (or "Fanks, isit", which is the tag and initial consonant I'm more likely to use, since I speak a non-London variety Souf-England English) does sound odd to me. But "Thanks, eh" sounds fine to me, where the "eh" emphasises the "thanks", so "thanks, eh" means something like "thanks lots" rather than plain old "thanks". Possibly that's interference from one of the other dialects I have spoken in my life.


  7. Chandra said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    @JP Villanueva – "Hey" is actually a pretty common variation on "eh" in certain parts of Canada (in fact, I'm more likely to use "hey" myself). This, of course, still doesn't explain why your office worker thought she sounded more American.

  8. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

    Although I don't know exactly what Mark heard, another interpretation is that the speaker was aiming at "Thanks, sir." Or even "Thank you, sir" spoken quickly as "Thankyuhsuh."

    Did you notice any regional accent when he was speaking regularly?

    [(myl) Your hypothesis that I mis-heard "thanks, sir" is more plausible than the theory that it was "thanks, hon". But he wasn't otherwise r-less. Overall, there was nothing else about his side of our brief exchange that seemed out of the ordinary for a twenty-something native speaker of American English in Northern California.]

  9. Simon Cauchi said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

    Andy Hollandbeck's conjecture strikes me as very plausible.

    I'm a BrE speaker and have never heard "Thanks, innit". "Innit" is just a slurred "isn't it?". No doubt a context might be found where "Thanks, isn't it?" makes sense, but it's certainly not a common collocation.

  10. Boris said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

    I live in New Jersey (all over the state in recent years) and would not understand "That's pretty cool, huh" with a falling intonation. With a rising intonation, I would find both the "eh" and "huh" versions unremarkable in the sense of seeking agreement as in "That's pretty cool, isn't it?"

  11. Olga said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 3:42 pm

    For what it's worth, my 2 3/4 year old son likes to finish his sentences with a low falling "huh". I think he's got it from me, and I'm a geographically confused non-native speaker of English (as in, I have had about equal amounts of BrE, CanE, and AmE input, resulting in an Olgalect). But Northern California has, in my case at least, nothing to do with it, huh.

  12. Steve F said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 3:42 pm

    Although 'innit' is growing in popularity among younger speakers of British English as a universal question-tag (older speakers like me still observe the agreement with the main verb), I don't think I have ever heard it – or any question-tag – used with 'thanks' in British speech. I don't think I've heard 'huh' or 'eh' used on this side of the pond either, but I find both of those easier to imagine than a question-tag with 'thanks'. Possibly other Brits – younger than me – are acquainted with it?

  13. c.c. said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

    I've heard, just a few times and mostly since moving to the Midwest, another kind of "huh," as sort of a tag question—"Make sure you take out the trash, huh?" or "I'm leaving now, huh?" It strikes me as a kind of "did you hear me?" or "all right?" But it definitely has to have rising intonation. "Thanks, huh," with falling on the end, sounds crazy unnatural to me, and I'm from California.

  14. Chris H said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

    I'm 18 and British, and I'm not acquainted with that particular use, either, Steve F, and I don't think my friends would be. I think innit's not necessarily always used just as a question-tag, though: I heard a kid today say "…and I beat the shit out of him, innit…" I guess it could be similar to an emphasising "didn't I?" in that use, but the inflection was very definitely downward. I tend only to use "innit" as a question tag; I'm a snob that way.

  15. JP Villanueva said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 4:26 pm


    I will confess I'm from Seattle… maybe the low-falling huh-tag is a western thing? @Olga?

    I'm sitting at my desk, thinking about a rising-tone huh-tag… That's pretty cool, huh? I hear how it's possible, but I have a heavy preference for the low-falling huh.

    I've always been struck by the Brits and their tags–"innit" et al. Mostly, because they look to me like tag-questions, but they use falling tone as well. right? don't they? isn't it?

    I can't wait for the Aussies to weigh in with there eh's and hey's….

  16. David L said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

    I was going to second Andy Hollandbeck's explanation, because I (British transplant long resident in the DC area) find myself saying "Thankyusuh" from time to time — often with exaggerated emphasis on the first syllable.

    But then I realized I tend to say this only in a downward social direction — when I'm speaking to rude mechanicals, streetsweepers, humble tradespeople and the like. So if I were a hotel clerk I probably wouldn't say it to a departing guest.

    In fact, now that I've realized how I use this expression I think I will try to stop.

  17. Tom said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

    "Thanks, innit". Really? Never ever heard this. Maybe some inner-city kids have started saying it though. Much more commonly heard in (generally male-male) informal interactions in most parts of England is "Thanks mate", which can be said to anyone you want to project some vague sense of rapport or gratitude to.

  18. Don Sample said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

    Back in the 70s, Mark M. Orkin wrote a popular humour book on Canadian dialect titled "Canajan, Eh?" He followed it up with a book on American dialect titled "Merrican, Huh?" so the observation that Americans tend to use "huh" the way Canadians use "eh" is hardly new.

  19. NW said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

    The intonation on ordinary tag questions is falling when it's more rhetorical: 'I beat the shit out of him, didn't I?' has a falling tag when you're asserting you did and rising when you're not sure and want confirmation. Young BrE 'innit' is replacing all other falling tags, but still can't be used with a questioning rise or after non-statements like 'Thanks'. As far as I'm aware.

  20. Toma said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

    I've heard "Yeah, huh?" used to mean something like "How about that?" or "You don't say." Or it's used when actual words are for some reason inappropriate. Like when two guys are talking: "Hey, Bob, guess what? My wife is going to have a baby." Bob: "Yeah, huh?" Bob wants to express some enthusiasm and approval and congratulations, but not too much.

  21. dazeystarr said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

    @Boris/JP Villanueva:

    I'm a New Jersey native living in Oregon. I would have no problem using "That's pretty cool, huh" with either a rising or falling intonation, but my choice would depend on the conversational context.

    I'd be likely to use the falling intonation with a friend or social/professional peer from whom I expect agreement. I'd use the rising intonation with a stranger or superior, inviting agreement while leaving room for demurral.

  22. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 6:16 pm

    @Toma: Here in northern New Mexico that's mostly "Oh yeah huh," with a low-falling and of course nasal "huh". One young woman told she'd been asked whether it was a Native American word. There's also "I know huh" for agreement.

  23. Nathan Myers said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

    In Hawaii, "T'anks, 'eah" is very common. I don't know how to write the proper vowel, but it's a flat short "a", as in "yeah".

    This morning I was in what seemed to me a very strange phone exchange: "I'll pick it up this weekend." "No problem." Is "no problem" coming entirely unmoored, like "innit", and like "anymore" before it? The comic strip "Get Fuzzy" played with "innit" abuse quite a lot over the last year.

  24. James Donnelly said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

    I've heard "Thanks, eh" / "Thanks, huh" a good deal from old-timey San Francisco Irish: older guys from out in the avenues or amazingly old guys who grew up in the Mission when it had a significant Irish population. This huh/eh mostly happened in the context of, you buy the bartender a drink and he says, "Thanks, Jimmy, huh [or eh]?" It's up-inflected but sort of swallowed for de-emphasis. Glad I could clear this up.

  25. Plane said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

    I was pretty familiar with "huh" as a question marker at the end of sentences, growing up near Chicago. Then I moved to the SF bay area about ten years ago, and I met a few people who used "huh" in ways that seemed quite odd to me, more like "Oh, that's interesting", for example in the phrase "Yeah, huh". I also encountered the "I know, huh" agreement phrase out here, as well as plain "Huh" to show something's interesting.

    I suppose if I had to characterize it, I'd say it seems more like it signifies thoughtfulness. I always got the impression this was an LA thing, but I wouldn't really know since I haven't been to LA much.

    I have never heard "Thanks, huh" that I can recall, in ten years of living here.

  26. Ella said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 8:28 pm

    I am a native British English speaker who has been living in Canada since early adolescence. "Thanks, eh?" (rising tone) and "Thanks, huh" (low/falling tone) both seem normal Canadian/North American usage to me and I would probably use either one in conversation depending on the linguistic register of the person I was conversing with. "Thanks, innit" sounds very odd to me and I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that. I think an analagous construction more familiar to BrE ears might be "Thanks, yeah?", at least in the South.

  27. Copacetic said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 8:57 pm

    "Innit" is extremely common in many parts of London (to the extent that it verges on parody), and in my experience is far more common as a rhetorical device than as an actual question tag. It seems to suggest that the preceding clause should be considered self-evidently or performatively true by the addressee, and is somewhat more aggressive and far less verifiable than an "invitatio[n] to join in the expression of a presumably shared opinion." It can also suggest that the behavior described in the preceding clause was morally justified. It reads more like a challenge, daring the addressee to object.

    Thus, an exchange might go:

    A: Mate, why didn't you call me when you got to Fabric?
    B: I couldn't get any bars on my phone, innit.
    A: [expletive]

    You should only ever say it yourself if you are wearing Adidas trainers.

  28. LassLisa said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

    I'm NorCal born and bred myself (although 'NoCal' is not how I generally hear it said) and 'huh' as thoughtfulness-marker/speech-pause sounds completely normal to me. I usually use it trail off at the end of a sentence, more 'uh' or 'ah' than 'huh', but they all sound fine to me.

  29. Gary Gary Gary said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 1:01 am

    Not sure the Adidas trainers comment was particularly helpful (probably because I am wearing a pair myself), but as a youngish Londoner, I agree with Copacetic's otherwise very well-put analysis of current 'innit' usage among the capital's youth.

    'Thanks, innit' doesn't seem natural at all to my ears (it's the kind of thing I'd expect my parents to say when taking the mick out of 'innit' usage, and slightly not getting it).

    I agree with Ella that 'thanks, yeah?' seems like a much more natural BrE way of putting it (although as you say, maybe only in the South).

  30. Dan M. said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 3:16 am

    Northeast AmE native here. I can see three ways to use "Thanks, huh".

    Rising: "I'm thankful and enough so that I want confirmation that you see how important it is."

    Fall-rise, with the end stressed: "The need for thanks has been suggested and I am belligerently opposed to the idea."

    Falling: "I'm thankful, and enough so that it's not just pro forma, but I don't actually need your approval of my thanks." Compare to "Thanks." falling: "I don't need your approval of my thanks, since I don't mean it and am just being polite."

  31. Clare said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 3:46 am

    Maybe New Zealand English has something similar going on with their "eh". It seems to be all over the place, but I'm sure others have studied the patterns (too lazy Clare to look it up!) I think they say things like "thanks, ey" — to be honest I don't even know how you'd spell it, the "eh" just looks too closed for the vowels down here, but I can't think of anything better.

    But I've also been watching The Wire (I'm very behind the times) and I've been noticing "yo" a lot. What's happening there? Wikipedia has examples like ""This hot dog is nasty, yo!" — not even a question mark! Maybe these sorts of tags are just starting to proliferate generally in English and "huh" is being swept up in the tide — so not so much an influence from Canadian as a general trend.

  32. Peter Taylor said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 4:18 am

    Google does pick up examples of "Thanks, innit", including at least one in an urbandictionary example. My suspicions about its usage are that it's less widespread than Mark Liberman suspects: I would guess that it's mainly restricted to lower class teens.

  33. ellis said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 4:23 am

    I hear 'yo' sometimes still in Cornish English (and even on occasion use it) exactly as in the The Wire example quoted above: 'Some hot today, yo'.

  34. Ben said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 4:28 am

    I'm in NYC, and I don't think I've ever heard "Thanks, huh" with falling intonation, and I'm not sure how I would interpret it if I did.

    I sometimes hear "Thanks, huh" with rising intonation, and I interpret that as a sort of sincerity-marker (i.e. I really mean thanks, I'm not just saying it because of a politeness protocol).

    And a plain "Huh" in response to a statement is very common, as a way to acknowledge that you heard what the speaker said and find it interesting, but don't have anything to say in response. Additionally, a rising intonation here means the statement made you think.

  35. Ben Hemmens said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 5:24 am

    he was multitasking.

    the thanks was for you, the huh was for something that just happened on his computer screen.

  36. harry said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 5:45 am

    Could the regional end of sentence verbal tics be related to uptalk?
    Init? Eh? etc. all seem to be querying or asking for assent in some way.

  37. Picky said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 6:58 am

    Just for the record, there is a form of innit which predates Adidas – predates it by so much, indeed, that it is part of my ancient Sarf London speech. The initial vowel is a schwa, the intonation falls, but it is not totally rhetorical, although it does presume a positive response.

    It is most powerful after a single adjective: Good, 'nnee? Gorgeous, 'nshe? Cold, 'nnit?

    It is informal, but footwear-independent.

  38. Słowosław said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 8:09 am

    I largely agree with Copacetic regarding the use of "innit". I used to hear it used grauitously a lot by teenagers, and even now I sometimes hear it used this way by my now-twentysomething friends. "Isit" was also widespread for a time, and I've heard reports of "isitinnit" being used in the same way.
    (This is all from Greater London)

    Regarding "thanks, huh", I wonder if he started to say something after thanks and then decided not to. That can lead to strange sounding speech patterns.

  39. Gregory Marton said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 8:31 am

    FWIW my guess was as Andy's: "Thankyousuh".

  40. stormboy said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 9:25 am

    "I think an analagous construction more familiar to BrE ears might be "Thanks, yeah?", at least in the South."

    Exactly what I (British, from London) was thinking when I read the OP. 'Innit' is widely used but I don't think I've ever heard it used with 'thanks'.

  41. Richard said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

    I've known people who say "huh" in the pattern you've hypothesized as an idiosyncratic verbal tic that I could never pin to a region, let alone a growing phenomenon. That may be my guess.

  42. Steve Harris said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 6:57 pm

    Novelist Diana Gabaldon (in her Outlander series) represents 18th-century Highland Scots as often using "aye" as an ending particle, in what strikes me as very similar to Canadian "eh". It include commands, such as "Dinna do that, aye?" –"Don't do that, okay?"–in which I interpret it as something of a softener, a request for acknowledgement that the speaker's command will be obeyed. But it's about as ubiquitous as the Canadian "eh" reported in the article referenced in the head of this blog.

    I have no personal evidence of the accuracy of this usage, either historically or in modern Scots usage.

  43. Thomas P said,

    February 6, 2010 @ 1:56 am

    From someone who is so concerned about 'effect size' and the like, I'm surprised by your fascination with this single observation which quite as likely has no linguistic pertinence at all. Perhaps the clerk had a moment of oesophageal reflux,

  44. Russell said,

    February 6, 2010 @ 2:33 am

    @Dan M. Not really sure I understand your last category. What sort of situation do you have in mind?

    I too have never heard it (that I can remember). But many times just listening to people on the bus I hear things I've never heard before, so that doesn't really tell you much. Can I ask if there was clearly an initial [h]? I can seem to recall what you might write as "uh" after various leavetaking utterances (see you later, uh), if "uh" didn't already indicate a turn-initial filler. Sort of means either "see you later, okay?" Or maybe you think you delayed in saying the leavetaking by a half-a-second or so and want to get the other's attention so you're sure they heard you.

    Anyway, I'll definitely keep my ears open. Though if it's currently limited to certain institutional contexts I may never be in the right situation to catch it.

  45. Nathan Myers said,

    February 6, 2010 @ 3:13 am

    Would you be drummed out of the linguists' union if you asked him what it means?

  46. Russell said,

    February 6, 2010 @ 5:14 am

    You can always ask someone what a word means (or what they meant by such-and-such). You might even get a response after the puzzled and/or threatening looks. How you interpret their response(s) (which could run from "here's the definition:…" through "well, you use it when…" to "I dunno, like [repeat original token].") is up to you.

    (side note: I initially typed "is up you to." Buh)

    [(myl) Right. This kind of direct question is most likely to be helpful with words that refer to concrete things or qualities. It's much less likely to be helpful with function words; and it's almost never helpful with pragmatic particles and tags like "eh", "huh", "innit", etc.

    So asking someone what he means by "huh" might provoke the Linguists' Union into filing a grievance — it doesn't really matter, since the California State Lexicographical Malpractice Commission has a 15-year backlog of Urban Dictionary cases, and has been essentially de-funded due to Proposition 13 — but in any case, such a question is unlikely to produce useful information.]

  47. Sili said,

    February 6, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

    And anyway you'd never get past the Ethics Review Board at Penn, 'nnit.

  48. Rick S said,

    February 6, 2010 @ 8:58 pm

    For some reason I can't pinpoint, it occurred to me while reading the comments that the low falling "huh" might have been intended to embarass and shame you, expressing "Huh! No (or too little) tip!" in a plausibly deniable way in case you complained about his attitude. People who depend on tips for a substantial portion of their income have such tricks in their pragmatic repertoire, I believe. But I don't know if that's plausible, since I never stay at hotels and don't know whether tipping desk clerks is customary in some contexts.

  49. Darrell said,

    February 11, 2010 @ 1:36 am

    I've stayed in hotels in several parts of the U.S. and have never heard of tippng the desk clerk, so I doubt that's it. I'd guess it was an expression of surprise or a very slight chuckle over some minor thing soon forgotten.

  50. Pinoy said,

    November 14, 2010 @ 9:40 am

    I am a native British English speaker with friends and Family in The Philippines. I have noticed that "huh" is used often in The Philippines with almost a sad tone. They also like to use "uhuh" quite often too. However, so do Scots! In my line of work I often speak to Scottish people and they will provide verbal nods with either a "huh" or a "uhuh"!

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