What the heck? What the frack? What the (insert favorite word/curse word) here; I even heard a guy on TV say "What the veg?", which made me say WTF? It is an exclamation, usually used to express surprise, astonishment, etc., at something or someone. For example, if I happened to pass a man wearing no pants, covered in glitter, and belting out off key show tunes, I might exclaim some form of that phrase. Most people would say something similar to WTF, and not one person would blame them, if they were there. I mean, it's a man with no pants!
People have to have a way of expressing their astonishment, after all. The world has lots of surprises in it.
Things happen all the time that are strange or odd or just plain weird,
and the brain just can't compute. Nobody expects to see anyone walking
about without pants these days, for instance, and because that image is
so "off", we pause and we exclaim WTF? or the equivalent. It is almost a reflex.
Sometimes we say "WTF?" to express courage. I at least think WTF? before I try a new food, for example. It's my version of the YOLO(you only live once). I'm throwing caution to the wind and stepping out onto the ledge for a new adventure, and in the case of new food, the hope that the food will a)be delicious, and b)not cause food poisoning.
I've been hearing variations of WTF? as long as I can remember. It's almost ubiquitous, universal. If you say it, people always know what it means. It may be an ancient phrase, found among the hieroglyphics on the tombs of the Pharaohs. Perhaps there's a passage in Sanskrit which features the words, or maybe carved into the walls of burial mounds somewhere. I wouldn't be surprised.
I also wouldn't be surprised to find out that some version of the phrase appears in every single language on the planet. Although we in America are all about being unique with our extremely complicated language, other places and people experience astonishment and are surprised by life all the time. And the people of this earth got to be where they are by bravely seeking out new places and new experiences in the face of certain death.
Many languages, many cultures, and at least one phrase in common.