Doh! Meh Makes Its Mark

Posted by Mark Peters

Another Simpsons word lands in a dictionary

Yikes! Yeeps! Ugh! Whoo! Ack! Guh! Mmm ... Oooh ... Whoa ... Bleah. Hmm? Aaiiieee!Interjections don't get the respect of nouns and verbs, but who needs respect when you can communicate so efficiently all by your lonesome?Regardless, a lowly interjection just got its due: meh-The Simpsons-coined, shrug-like expression of apathy-will be included in the 30th anniversary edition of the Brit-focused Collins English Dictionary. The word won a competition in which readers could make a case for their favorite neglected term.For the unfamiliar, meh is exquisitely dismissive: saying it with enthusiasm is like trying to fill up a tire by mouth. It's as if the speaker/grunter doesn't care enough to spend a whole three syllables on whatever. Here's how Collins will describe it:mehINTERJ1  an expression of indifference, boredom: What do you think of their new album? Meh.ADJ  1  mediocre; boring: The Canadian election was meh.2 apathetic, bored, or unimpressed: I feel a bit meh about the whole thing.According to Cormac McKeown, head of content at Collins Dictionaries, the final entry will also include information on the Yiddish pre-history of meh. But the first meh as we know it appeared in The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Wedding" on March 19, 1995:Bart: Oh, these Renaissance faires are so boring.Marge: Oh, really? Did you see the loom? I took loom in high school.(Marge then weaves the message "Hi Bart, I am weaving on a loom")Bart: Meh.Meh also appeared in the "Girly Edition" episode (aired April 19, 1998) when Marge, like so many spouses, complained to her husband about the attire of his helper monkey, Mojo:Marge: Oh, for Pete's sakes! Why is that monkey wearing a diaper? I thought he was housebroken.Homer and Mojo (in apathetic chorus): Meh.Signs of meh's success are as easy to find as dogs at a squirrel convention. Urban Dictionary is a dubious, Wikipedia-like source, but its 229 definitions of meh show large awareness of the tiny word. Online variations such as meh-ness, mehometer, mehgasm, mehitude, mehage, mehtastic, mehtacular, mehlicious, non-meh, and meh-on-a-stick show the term's usefulness and adaptability. Getting in the Collins Dictionary, however, requires wide use. In English texts from around the world-which include magazines, newspapers, books, journals, and websites-McKeown says meh scored big: "We have examples of meh being used in more than 40 of our sources over the last three years." Some words are added despite appearing in as few as five of their sources, so for such a weary word, meh certainly gets around.Why has meh succeeded when similar words (like wev, a thus-far obscure abbreviation of whatever) fail? Its Simpsons pedigree certainly helps; the show is responsible for adding doh, yoink, cheese-eatin' surrender monkeys, tomacco, and cromulent to the collective vocabulary. McKeown isn't surprised, noting that: "Amusing people are influential." That's one reason why TV-comedy-propelled words succeed so often: We likely wouldn't pepper our personal ads and suicide notes with the words regifting, truthiness, buttmunch, strategery, and blurgh if not for Seinfeld, The Colbert Report, Beavis and Butthead, Saturday Night Live, and 30 Rock, respectively."I've no doubt [that meh] will eventually feature in all large English dictionaries; it's ubiquitous and infectious," McKeown says. "It gives you an out, a way to reserve judgment." Since judgment-reserving and I'm-too-cool-to-care-ness are never going away, meh fills a niche that's likely to outlast Social Security and possibly the sun.Whatever meh's future, there's one misrepresentation of its past that deserves an immediate stake through its heart: the idea that meh has just now become a word, as some bloggers claim. This assertion makes it sound as if meh was mere gibberish, sadly waiting for the blessing of the wordinistas to fulfill its Pinocchio-like dreams of becoming real. That is a serious hunk of bunk. Meh has always been a word.Erin McKean, editor-in-chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary, took up this issue-though not specifically related to meh-with a comparison close to my pooch-loving heart: "Being in the dictionary," she wrote a while back on the PowellsBooks.Blog, "doesn't make a word ‘real.' All words are real. Words are like dogs. Some dogs are pedigreed, some are not, but the unpedigreed dogs are dogs just the same-they bark like dogs and run like dogs and rub their little doggy noses into your hand whether or not they have a piece of paper from the Kennel Club. It's the same with words."People coin words; dictionaries only play catch-up. You may feel whoo-hoo, meh, ooh-la-la, or even blurgh about that, but it's the truth.(Photo: THE SIMPSONS ™ & ©2006TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)