John Hodgman on "meh"

I enjoyed this exchange with John Hodgman on Twitter yesterday, reminiscent of my own rant on “FAIL.

hodgman: Did I ever tell you people how much I hate the word “meh”? Nothing announces “I have missed the point” more than that word.

hodgman: It is the essence of blinkered Internet malcontentism. And a rejection of joy. Also: 12 hive mehs in the replies SO FAR

hodgman: By definition, it may mean disinterest (although simple silence would be a more damning and sincere response, in that case)

hodgman: But in use, it almost universally seems to signal: I am just interested enough to make one last joyless, nitpicky swipe and then disappear

wordwill: @hodgman Isn’t rejecting joy how one traditionally demonstrates one’s superior cool? Though, at the same time, to hell with that.

hodgman: @wordwill yes. It’s part of the toxic Internet art of constant callous one upsmanship. And it is a sort of art, but not for me.

75 thoughts on “John Hodgman on "meh"

  1. In the great 5th grade schoolyard of the internets, there is no greater response than “Meh” in my opinion, as long as it is used to respond to something that somebody else is making a big deal out of.

    “My wife just had a baby!”

    “Meh”

    [Not cool]

    “Hey I just heard this great Nickelback song! You should listen to it too!”

    “Meh”

    [Simply divine]

  2. To me “Meh” essentially means “I get that you’re very interested in this, but I really am not. Stop talking now.”

    As far as I can tell, the current popular usage stems from a Simpsons joke in the episode “Hungry Hungry Homer”.

  3. Sorry you don’t like “meh.” It is a very effective way of communicating disinterest. Sometimes a quick, curt response is more effective than a verbose one:

    “I don’t care about what you are saying and I want to belittle its importance.”

    Personally I can’t stand “anywho.”

  4. “meh” = “I don’t know how to spell “feh”.

    “meh” drives me up the wall also, though not as much as the gamer nitwits who think “FTW” stands for “For the Win” (It’s actually “F*CK THE WORLD”.

    Idiots.

  5. SLEZE: Hodgman argues a more effective and sincere way to communicate disinterest is not to respond at all.

    Phil Nelson: The Simpsons has been using the word since 1994, and it had appearances online before that, but everyone points to the 2001 “Hungry Hungry Homer” episode as a tipping point because it actually spelled the word out. Some people have speculated Yiddish origins, but I think Grant Barrett nailed it in an 2004 Chicago Tribune article about “meh” and “D’oh” — “I suspect they’re both just transcribed versions of oral speech, which has any number of single-syllable sounds that mean a variety of things.”

    Karl Elvis MacRae: Acronyms can have multiple meanings and origins. “Fuck The World” definitely predated “For The Win,” but that doesn’t mean that one’s wrong.

  6. Over usage changes the meaning of a word/abbreviation, right? That’s especially true on the internet. I remember having a friend who woefully owned a baggy white tee-shirt that had “NOT” in bold black on both sides. I wonder if Stephen Fry has an opinion on “meh”

  7. SLEZE:

    mayhaps anywho should be spelled anyhoo?

    that’s how me and my peeps rock it.

    as for meh’s yiddish origins, it may not be directly derived from a particular yiddisism, but it sure as heck *sounds* inspired by the dismissive sounds that yiddish is so full of.

    Down10

    my five and a half year old has recently started using a very tweenager-like “whatever”.

    it’s potent stuff!

  8. “meh” is one of the lowest forms of expression on the internet. It’s lazy, insulting, and dismissive.

    The rise of “like it” and “this is good” buttons are part of this I-have-an-opinion-but-won’t-put-down-my-Oreo trend, but at least they’re positive sentiments. I’m sure there are sites somewhere with “FAIL” and “meh” buttons.

  9. I am afraid I must beg everyone’s pardon, but following a considered reflection upon the subject discussed above herein this forum publica, I regret that I have assembled a disinterest so profound in this matter as to merit a comment regarding my psychological reaction, which can only be described as quintessentially nonplussed.

    Precisely what internet does Mr Hodgman profess his desire to be a participant in? The same organ of discourse that afforded a resounding welcome to his call for the invention of a thousand names for fictional vagrants? Perhaps this is what is implied by the folk pluralisation of the word internet: It is a venue for the cornucopia of human converse.

    Meh is merely the contemporary expression of disinterestedness, and a far more civilised abbreviation than its antecedent, a careful typing out of the word yawn. I therefore would be unsurprised if Dr Johnson, a great appreciator of the economy and precision of words, would have incorporated meh into a Twenty-first Century edition of his celebrated dictionary.

  10. Now wait another couple of months and someone can write a piece on how lame it is to use FTW.

    You’re all soooo postmodern.

    DM

  11. It’s pretty mean, but sometimes effective. Compared to “you fail”, it’s almost polite.

    But yea, better stop here before “go kill yourself” becomes the most common form of expressing contempt on the internet.

  12. I always thought “meh” was a corruption of the Yiddish “feh.” Here’s Jackie Mason’s definition from his book How to Talk Jewish:

    Feh is the shortest, most efficient way in the Yiddish language to say something stinks.”

  13. I have two thoughts on this.

    First, as a father of a teen, I’ll take ‘meh’ over silence any day because it is at least an attempt at communication. I work really hard at keeping the line of communication open with my son. Anybody who has been the recipient of stony silence knows that participating in conversation or dialogue just enough to express disinterest is still better than not participating at all. ‘Meh’ can be a toehold toward more expansive conversation later.

    Second, there is a difference between personal opinion and corporate commentary. I think the problem I see people having with ‘meh’ is when in the course of communication, one person thinks another person’s opinion has no value. Opinion is perspective, not law. We have have differing opinions without coming to blows. ‘Meh’ can be a personal opinion, not necessarily a condemnation of you or your value system. ‘I don’t care’ is not necessarily the same as ‘your idea sucks and you are stupid.’

  14. YAMARA:

    Thanks for the sesquipedalian endorsement of “meh” and the internet.

    I think a more important discussion would be on the word “nonplussed” which sounds like it should mean “meh” but actually means “utterly perplexed.” Which is utterly perplexing. It’s like a linguistical booby-trap. I’m also nonplussed by “inflammable” and “flammable” which mean the same thing but look like they mean the opposite. As opposed to “anon” which means both “now and “later.”

    It’s all so nonplussing.

  15. The problem with expressing disinterest by silence is that it’s indistinguishable from a lack of response because of not seeing/heard/paying attention. “Meh”, like “whatever”, succinctly communicates that one has heard and understood the statement in question and just doesn’t care.

  16. If you’re engaged in conversation, like Johne Cook with his kid or in a dialogue online, it has value. But an unsolicited comment or tweet, where your presence is completely unnecessary (and arguably unwanted), what’s the value?

    Like Hodgman said, “I am just interested enough to make one last joyless, nitpicky swipe and then disappear.”

  17. ‘FTW’ is not For The Win, F*ck The World, or anything else that starts with ‘F.’ Much like most gamer-l33t speak it’s based on a common mis-typing. “That move was awesome, John rules the world!!!” becomes “that was awesome, John RTW!” which then goes to “OMG U ROK, JOHN FTW!!!11”

  18. When I first heard “meh”, it had a slightly different meaning.. something like: ” I consider the (situation, thing..) to be flawed, but not completely unacceptable”

    An expression not of disinterest, but of ambivalence. A dismissal of fault.

  19. Lighten up. I’d be interested to know what area of the internet you frequent – I’m yet to see ‘meh’ in the plague proportions you must have witnessed to warrant such disdain. I’d take light-hearted disinterest over this aggressive attack any day.

  20. have to agree with hodgman.

    “meh” is pretty pointless.

    if you’re not really interested in whatever was posted, move on. look for something else you do like.

    it doesn’t even work as a way to signal to other people that the post is boring/irrelevant because “meh” is found in the comments section which comes AFTER the post. and even if i do manage to see it first, why should your “meh” — from an anonymous internet vagrant — matter to me unless you explain yourself (which kinda ruins the brevity of just saying “meh”).

  21. I can’t believe how much time and effort has been wasted on this matter, by myself, and everyone who read, wrote, or even happened upon this by accident. I am ashamed, for all of us, and we are all dumber for having been part of this whole unfortunate occurrence.

    Go help an old lady across the street and let’s all promise to never ever speak of this matter ever again.

  22. This string of comments, whilst good for time wasting on a late lunch break, has generated a completely quintessential feeling of…

    …meh.

  23. I was going to signal my disinterest with silence but it occurred to me that you may not realise that I had made a conscious choice to not care about this topic.

    So here I am letting you know that I won’t be posting any more about this topic because it doesn’t interest me.

  24. “Meh” is not nearly as insidious as the eight hundred known obscene nonsense words, including “sil”, “puh”, “inkle”, “freef”, “slunch”, “bazpacho”, and the devastatingly naughty… oh, I can’t bring myself to say it here. You know, the word with all the vowels and no “q”. In polite conversation, I try to shout “WELL, SIL YOU!” no more than eight times an hour.

  25. I disagree with Pat K. It’s obvious from reading the earlier posts that a cogent back and forth discussion is going on about “meh.” So whilst Pat K. is clearly just posting her drive-by opinion other contributors like Meh, Simon, and Shala are actual engaging in debate.

  26. John Hodgeman, you are, in this one rare instance, so v. wrong

    “meh…” [never spelled with a capital! and a word i have used since 1999] means .. I EXPECT Joy, ergo I am temporarily and somewhat amused by the current lack thereof.

  27. This is what art is – to have someone so succinctly express your feelings for you. You are a treasure, John Hodgman.

  28. While I agree with Hodgman on ‘meh’, his use of twitter to express that is very ‘meh’ or even FAIL.

    And yes, FTW (and FTL) are so lame it hurts.

  29. Seems I was doing it wrong.

    I’ve only ever used “meh” synonmous to “bah”, as in:

    “meh, that didn’t work” and never in a reply to anyone else, just to mutter.

    And only on IRC or IM, not spoken it.. I think 😛

  30. I liked mehtadata for pointless trivia that shouldn’t exist.

    Anonymous drive-by meh implicitly means “you can get my attention but not with this”, and probably further implies “I liked your earlier stuff better”.

    As for DIAF, ii prefer “Get cancer, now”

  31. Please, “disinterested” means having nothing to gain or lose from something (e.g., financially, as in interest payments on a savings account). “uninterested” means not caring about it and is a much more appropriate word to use to describe the meaning of “meh”.

  32. I always thought the textual representation of a shoulder shrug was “enh” not “meh.” At least, that’s how I’ve always done it and I can remember using it before The Simpsons made the spelling “meh” as canonical as it can be. (I guess I just misunderstood the earlier Simpsons usage that Andy notes.)

    Does anyone else use “enh?”

  33. I always assumed “meh” was a sort of a general shorthand for, “I’m not really interested.” And that doesn’t necessarily have to be snark. My boyfriend and I use it conversationally all the time. He goes out to a restaurant that was just okay. I ask him how it was. “Meh.” I see a dress I really like and ask him what he thinks about it. He’s not sold. “Meh.” We’re watching So You Think You Can Dance, and I’m trying to find a way to describe performances that while not bad, aren’t really something to write home about either. “They were just meh.”

    It’s for all those things in life you have lukewarm feelings for. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either. It’s just so-so. It’s…meh. I don’t think it necessarily has to be joyless or insulting, although it can be.

  34. “meh” is not some mere expression of disinterest; it is meant to dismiss the party who has just enthusiastically railed on about some subject in which you find less interest than toenail clippings. It is an expression of scorn for their enthusiasm towards a matter that you find trivial, base, and stupid. It should only be used in those situations where someone has unheedingly and happily pushed conversation upon you, and should ideally be preceded by a four-to-five second flat-eyed stare.

    In situations where the other party is particularly unmannerly in pushing conversation upon me, I find the abrupt interjection of the word “Die.” into the conversation to bring an effective halt to their stream of thought.

  35. Meh is uses primarily as a cross between MWAHAHAHA and Heh: call it a subdued MWAHAHAHA and it’s the most popular use.

  36. This rant is fundamentally about commenting etiquette and not about meh at all. Comments, on blogs, twitter, etc. should engage the author, the content, the people — or so we assume. Saying meh doesn’t do this. A lot of replies fall in the same bucket. Outside of that context, meh works. It has meaning and is sometimes exactly right.

    Rejecting “meh” as such says a lot about how perspective is shaped by how we spend our time.

  37. Might have a point, if it didn’t pre-date the internet.

    meh = I understand you’re point, but I just don’t care.

    You want to ask why people bother to post it? Who knows. Why do people post LOL? or a million other pointless responses.

  38. I use meh as a combination of “sigh” and “boredom”.

    I do admit it means carelessness and disinterest, but I still like to use it my way 😛

  39. Just to note: ‘disinterest’ implies neutrality. ‘Lack of interest’ better fleshes out ‘meh.’

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