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The word "sh" (or "shh") is an exclamation for silence:

Shh! They're listening...

Etymonline only mentions a date (1847) and the common practice of "putting a finger to the lips." Does anyone else have more information about its origin?

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In Italian we say "shhh!" There must be a common root, but I can't find anything :| –  Alenanno May 10 '11 at 9:58
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@Alenanno - when I was in the Sistine Chapel, what I heard the security guards keep saying was "sssss" rather than "shhh" - it was an extremely annoying sound! –  neil Aug 20 '12 at 12:17
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@neil Oh yes, there's that variant. And it's annoying as hell! :D –  Alenanno Aug 20 '12 at 12:19
    
@neil: It is rather curious that this is used to urge someone to be silent, as the 's' and 'sh' sound is heard over most other spoken sounds. So it makes more sound to tell someone to be quiet than the original offence. In choirs, the singers are often told to dampen 's' sounds, and even not sing them at all (just leave it to one or two people). –  awe Oct 1 '12 at 13:12
    
@awe: It would need to be loud to overcome the noise from the person you want to silence. Otherwise, how would they hear it? That being said, de-s'ing vocalists is truly a pain I know from experience. Not a trivial task without the proper equipment. –  MrHen Oct 1 '12 at 15:26

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Many words which mean "silence, please" have the digraph 'sh'. E.g. hush and shush.

The origin of all these words however, was the Middle English word huisst(pronounced "wheesht"), which originated in round about 1350–1400A.D. Huisst as expected, meant "silence, peace".

The Scottish plea for silence also includes the 'sh' digraph: wheesht.

The sound for signalling a desire for quiet has long been associated with the sound 'sh'.

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an answer for which I do not have a source, but is worth consideration, is that the sound "shhh" is soothing to babies, perhaps because it imitates the sounds in the womb.

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It's been a while since I read the book, but Fredrik Lindström's "Jordens smartaste ord" (ISBN: 9789100580360) discusses the word "shh" in depth and posits it's the only word common to all human languages. It's even present in languages that don't use the sound.

Since it's been so long since I read the book, I don't know his sources.

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Could be related to

hush

Which has been around since the 1600s

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protected by tchrist Oct 1 '12 at 13:21

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