I strongly believe that one of the things making the Expanse or Firefly such great series is the language: Chinese curses for the latter, the Belter lingo for the former. It’s these small things that make or break a story, and that’s why you gotta love linguistics!
Most Common Words That Are Used In Multiple Languages
Anyone who has tried to take a look at language and history knows that words are inherently arbitrary, merely symbolic, and are agreed upon by common demographic consensus. Language does not only change its shape and form according to the geography but also through the course of time; history. A word that holds any meaning today may become meaningless ten years down the line. These dynamic changes do not happen due to any rhyme or reason; they just happen!
There is no logical explanation to why the basic vocabulary of Iceland has changed about 4% in the last millennium, and the Norwegian one has changed over 20% in the same time. It is all erratic, based only on the whims of the mass of an epoch. If you think about it, language is like fashion. The mass agreed that bell bottom pants are the need of the hour, and then years later the changed mass disagreed. Similarly for words like “fubsy” or “Bedlam,” ancestors of “chubby” and “asylum.” Why did the consensus settle on “chubby” instead of “fubsy”? No one knows.
This makes one curious, though. If we assume that human beings are the same universally (if we strip them down to the basics), shouldn’t certain words be universal too? We all have the same set of emotions: anger, sadness, fear, love, etc. And language, per se, is the medium of expressing these emotions.
Apart from that, a lot of languages are borrowed from other languages, English being the topper in that list. There is this free trade that is (again) erratic and haywire. If our ancestors deemed a Latin word fit to express an emotion in our native language, so be it!
The internet of language
Of course, as language evolves, it gains its individualism. Even so, there are still tiny specks of similarity that connect to imaginary wires interlinking all of us. The internet of language, if you wish.
One of the most common specks on the internet of language is the word, “huh.” “Huh” is a word that is used around five continents. Out of the 31 dialects scientists recently researched, “huh” was the most common word in all the languages, the word always being used to express confusion. Perhaps, “huh” could have been your response after knowing that “huh” is even a word — and the most common one at that.
Apart from “huh,” the words “mama” and “papa” are used in slight variations across the globe, both of which represent the sounds that toddlers make. Truly universal.
Before you assume that the words that are directly taken from sounds may be universal, consider that the word “sugar,” too, is one of the most universal ones. Which cements the fact that there is no rationality involved in the universality of words! They just happen to be commonly used, that’s all.
For anyone curious enough, “Very,” “Court,” and “Zero” are other such words, even though less common.
Judging by the way language is moving forward, a word that is only used in your culture may become a universal word in the near future. And hey, you are writers: perhaps even a word that you first coined will be tomorrow’s staple. If you don’t believe me, just consider Shakespeare and how many words now common he invented. Words we would never use, were it not for a historical accident, as he died a nobody, then got famous by accident. So, you never know! And if you’re looking for further information on how language shapes our world, check out this post on the subject.