Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

A shrug in a word

A shrug in a word
When you think about it, in English, there seem to be many ways of saying the same thing. But why use several words, or a whole word to communicate a message when a simple three-letter word will do?

The Italians have mastered vocal efficiency with the word ‘boh’. Quite literally, it’s a shrug in a word that you’re almost guaranteed to hear wherever you go in Italy. Used to express a sense of “I don’t know”, “who knows?” or a reluctance to comment or express an opinion, it’s as easy to understand as it is to utter. Of course, much of the interpretation is in the tone it’s uttered, so listen out for added clues of frustration, sadness or anger to get a feel for the intended meaning.

Boh is also onomatopoeic. Much like “Hmmmm” which would be uttered when considering a viewpoint or thinking, “boh” is like a vocalization of surrender, having come to no answer or conclusion. In fact, the two work rather well together. “Hmmmm….boh!”