Monday, November 17, 2008

A triumph for the English Language

It's official. Some nerdy word people in the UK lobbied to have 'meh' included in Collins English Dictionary's 30th Anniversary edition, to be published next year. This particular neologism beat out hundreds of terms submitted by the public through the publishers' "Word of Mouth" campaign. Due to the "excitement" it received from lexicographers, meh was chosen over such gems as huggle, jargonaut, and frenemy.

The dictionary will define meh as "an interjection to suggest indifference or boredom - or as an adjective to say something is mediocre or a person is unimpressed."

The emotion of meh has always existed, but may have taken on slightly different intonations before it was so clearly spelled out on The Simpsons (Hungry Hungry Homer, 4 Mar 2001):

The show opens with a commercial for Blockoland, the park where everything is made of Blocko Brand(tm) Assembly Fun Blocks. Homer is hooked, despite the fact that even the park-goers in the commercial seem un-enthused.

Homer: Kids, how would you like to go to ... Blockoland!

Bart + Lisa: Meh.

Homer: But the TV gave me the impression that --

Bart: We said, "Meh!"

Lisa: M-e-h, meh.

Through the global use of email, text messaging, internet chat, and weblogs, a formal spelling of what would otherwise be a non-written sound is accepted (makes me think of the spelling of "tsk tsk," which when actually uttered doesn't sound like that). Clearly meh's popularity spread far outside the Simpsons' fan base: the phenomenon of language invention.

Of course, this isn't the first time a term coined on the Simpsons has earned its place as an official piece of our beloved language. It was in 2001 that "d'oh" was first published in the Oxford English Dictionary. Maybe that is why the Simpsons writers had Lisa spell out m-e-h that same year, hoping to make another impression on lexicography. This time it only took 8 years, compared to 11 for d'oh, so perhaps they were on to something.

But to me, meh can't be used as part of a sentence. It stands alone, as an answer to a question of one's preference or enthusiasm. So I'm personally not thrilled with the dictionary's choice of giving meh the power of an adjective. One of the reported examples that will be printed is, "The Canadian election was so meh." That just doesn't work for me. Especially with the preceding qualifier "so." It's an oxymoron. Nothing can be "so" meh, because by (now) definition, meh is apathetic, indifferent, and therefore can't be quantified.

So what will be popping up into our dictionary next (if they haven't already...I don't usually sit down and read the dictionary)? Perhaps some of the -shudder- txt abbreviations like lol and brb? Please, not in the dictionary. There is this place between formal and slang English in which we're all free to speak and type casually. But let's not deface the Holy Reference of our language with such atrocities. Let wiktionary have them! For that matter, I can't recall the last time I looked up a word in the physical dictionary with definitions printed on real-life paper pages. The hardback Webster's my grandmother gave me for high school graduation now gathers dust on a bookshelf (of course it's so out of date, it doesn't even include d'oh). Between online dictionaries, wikis, and research toolbars, do I even need an actual dictionary anymore? Meh.

Do you say it? What are some of your favorite words that have made their entrance through popular culture onto the universal language pallette ?


Bridget said...

Yeah, definitely not an adjective. If I were still working for that certain dictionary company, I would so show them who was boss.

I think "meh" is almost like the written form of a shrug and that noise you sometimes make when you shrug. I don't use it a lot (I can actually think of only one time in writing) but it is useful.

Kristen said...

'The written form of a shrug...'

That is the perfect explanation I was looking for.

I wanted to embed the clip from the episode but couldn't figure out where to find it. You sometimes do that, can you tell me how?


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