By Helena Rodriguez
Why do people take it personal if you ask them to repeat themselves?
These three letters must be the most detestable sounds in the English language because people flip out when I say them.
If you’re feeling particularly suicidal on a given day, I dare you to say “Huh?” not just once, but twice in a row to a store clerk, or better yet, a spouse (good grounds for divorce). And if you really like to live life on the edge, say “Huh?” twice to a teenager like my daughter, Laura, and then watch as your self-proclaimed victim looks at you like you just threw them the world’s worst insult.
As a journalist who also happens to be hard of hearing, (a lethal combination), I find myself saying “Huh?” often. Most of the time I don’t say “Huh?” just to be sarcastic (although if you stick around to the end of this column, I will show you some clever ways to use “Huh?”). Most of the time I say “Huh?” because I didn’t hear. It’s not to make your life any more complicated.
I‘d hate for someone to go out of their way for me. I know it’s a lot asking someone to take a few extra precious breaths to repeat themselves. What kind of sick person, besides a deaf journalist, would ask someone to do that?
Sometimes I think there’s a reason I’m hard of hearing, besides the fact that I don’t have the money or insurance right now to get that second ear surgery I’ve needed for years. Maybe this is a time in my life where God wants me to put more effort into listening rather than speaking. Or maybe he just wants me to drive others insane.
I must confess, though, about 20 percent of the time, I actually do hear what you say. Because of this “Rodriguez Syndrome” which runs rampant in my family, I will occasionally say “Huh?” out of habit even though I really did hear you.
Dad will say something like: “Can you pick up your mom?”
And I’m like, “Huh?”
But before Dad can repeat himself I say, “Yeah, I can pick up Mom.”
And then Dad’s like, “That’s what I said!”
You see, Dad is on to us. I don’t know how many years he’s known the truth, but he’s definitely on to us. Many a times, we Rodriguez girls will say “Huh?” just for the sake of saying “Huh?’ It’s like a natural reflex. On a bad day, I wait until the person has repeated themself and then I will say something like, “I heard you the first time.”
Laura is good at this, too. She hears me sometimes even though she doesn’t want to, so she’ll say, “Huh?” and then when I start to repeat, she’ll snap, “I heard you!”
On the other hand, there’s that 80 percent of the time when I really don’t hear, so sometimes it’s an honest to God “Huh?” As in, “I didn’t get that. Could you kindly repeat yourself?”
But during that 20 percent of the time when I really do hear, “Huh?” is not a true “Huh?” It’s more like an acknowledgment that I heard, thus changing the meaning of “Huh?” to “Give me a few seconds to process this information and then I’ll get back to you.”
It’s like putting somebody on hold.
Here’s another sneaky way to use “Huh?” I use it on Laura all the time, especially when she asks me for something I don’t want her to have, oh, let’s just say, like a cell phone. This is one of those rare instances in which a hearing problem like mine, which can cause serious impatience in your offspring, can become an asset.
Laura: “Mom, will you buy me a cell phone?”
Laura: “Will you buy me a cell phone?”
Me: “What hita, I still can’t hear you?”
Laura: “I SAID, CAN I GET A CELL PHONE!!!!”
Me: “Laura, you don’t have to get mad. You know I can’t hear well. Now be patient and tell me again.”
Laura: (Enunciating) “I s-a-i-d, can I (pointing to herself) h-a-v-e a cell phooooonnnneeeeee!”
Me: “I’m sorry hita, I still can’t hear you. Can you repeat it just one more time?”
Laura: “NEVER MIND!”
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: