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The meaning of «eh»

Eh (/ˈeɪ/ or /ˈɛ/) is a spoken interjection used in many varieties of English that is similar in meaning to "Excuse me?," "Please repeat that", or "Huh?". It is also commonly used as an alternative to the question tag right?, i.e., method for inciting a reply, as in "It's nice here, eh?" (instead of "It's nice here, right?"). In North America, it is most commonly associated with Canada and Canadian English, and the area stretching from northern Wisconsin up to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Similar interjections exist in many other languages, such as Azerbaijani and Italian.

The spelling of this sound in English is quite different from the common usage of these letters. The vowel is sounded in one of the continental manners, and the letter h is used to indicate it is long, as though the origin of the spelling were German.

It is an invariant question tag, unlike the "is it?" and "have you?" tags that have, with the insertion of not, different construction in positive and negative questions.

"Eh" is also used in situations to describe something bad or mediocre, in which case it is often pronounced with a short "e" sound and the "h" may even be noticeable.

Many Italian Americans, especially in the New York area, use the term "eh" as a general substitute for such basic greetings, such as "hey" or "hello".[citation needed]

According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, a usage of eh that is distinct to Canada and some regions of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, northern Wisconsin, and northern Minnesota, is for "ascertaining the comprehension, continued interest, agreement, etc., of the person or persons addressed" as in, "It's four kilometres away, eh, so I have to go by bike." In that case, eh? is used to confirm the attention of the listener and to invite a supportive noise such as "Mm" or "Oh" or "Okay". This usage may be paraphrased as "I'm checking to see that you're [listening/following/in agreement] so I can continue." Grammatically, this usage constitutes an interjection; functionally, it is an implicit request for backchannel communication.[1]

"Eh" can also be added to the end of a declarative sentence to turn it into a question seeking agreement. For example: "The weather is nice." becomes "The weather is nice, eh?" This same phrase could also be taken as "The weather is nice, don't you agree?". In this usage, it is similar to Scots "eh?", English "isn't it?", Portuguese "né?", Dutch "hè?", Japanese "ne?", Mandarin "bā" or French "hein?" (which differs from the French usage of "n'est-ce pas?" ("Is it not?") in that it does not use a (technically double or emphatic) negative).

The usage of "eh" in Canada is occasionally mocked in the United States, where some view its use as a stereotypical Canadianism. Such stereotypes have been reinforced in popular culture, and were famously lampooned in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. Singer Don Freed in his song "Saskatchewan" declares "What is this 'Eh?' nonsense? I wouldn't speak like that if I were paid to." There are many merchandise items on the market today that use this phrase, such as T-shirts and coffee mugs.[2]

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