Meh

Next year will see the publication of Collins English Dictionary’s 30th anniversary edition. To mark the occasion, HarperCollins invited the public to submit neologisms (new words or phrases) for inclusion in the new edition. If all this leaves you feeling meh, or thinking it, nothing would be so apt: last week meh was announced as the official selection.

As an expression of disinterest or indifference, meh has spread very quickly. Its popularity seems largely confined to people under 35 years of age, especially teenagers and people who use the internet a lot. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, think of it as a shrug in the form of an interjection or an adjective:

Stan Carey - meh graffitiInterjection:

Woah – did you see those wheels?
Meh, I’m not into cars.

So, was it a good film?
Meh.

Adjective:

The new album is a bit meh.
I felt meh about the whole idea.

Online, meh is common in instant messaging, chat rooms and discussion forums, and any sites that invite comments from the public. It’s generally deployed as a kind of shorthand for boredom, apathy or pithy dismissal, where to elaborate would be more trouble than it’s worth. It is especially favoured by the easily unimpressed.

Though the precise origins of meh are uncertain, and likely to remain so, The Simpsons TV show has been widely credited with bringing the expression into mainstream use. How mainstream remains to be seen – the Oxford English Dictionary has yet to include it but admits to having a meh file, so it may just be a matter of time.

Benjamin Zimmer writes more about its history and usage here.

Update: If I told you I saw meh in a book that was first published in 1922, some of you might guess the title. Although used in a very different sense to what I’ve outlined above, it is nevertheless meh, and it is tucked away in the middle of this passage on p.170 of the Penguin Modern Classics edition (and p.163 of the OUP-reissued 1922 text):

After all there’s a lot in that vegetarian fine flavour of things from the earth garlic of course it stinks after Italian organgrinders crisp of onions mushrooms truffles. Pain to the animal too. Pluck and draw fowl. Wretched brutes there at the cattlemarket waiting for the poleaxe to split their skulls open. Moo. Poor trembling calves. Meh. Staggering bob. Bubble and squeak. Butchers’ buckets wobbly lights. Give us that brisket off the hook. Plup. Rawhead and bloody bones. Flayed glasseyed sheep hung from their haunches, sheepsnouts bloodypapered snivelling nosejam on sawdust. Top and lashers going out. Don’t maul them pieces, young one.

From Ulysses by James Joyce.

[Image is from Cork, Ireland.]

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