Oxford English Dictionary Inducts 'Meh' Into Its Pages

Possibly originating in Yiddish dismissiveness but popularized by the Simpsons, 'meh' is now officially the word for the disengaged millennial.

Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad
Frame from the Fox series The Simpsons.
Frame from the Fox series The Simpsons.Credit: AP
Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad

The Oxford English Dictionary has added over 500 new words to its online dictionary, it announced Thursday. Among the new inductees to what is widely deemed to be the greatest dictionary in the world are ‘retweet’, ‘twerk’ (according to the OED, first recorded in 1820!), and ‘meh.’

‘Meh’, says the OED, is first and foremost an interjection “expressing indifference or a lack of enthusiasm.” When exactly it entered the English language is unknown. The dictionary cites a 1992 message on a gay and lesbian Usenet newsgroup called soc.motss as its earliest recorded use. “Meh... Far too Ken-doll for me,” the dictionary quotes an anonymous user saying in a discussion about the television series Melrose Place.

As for its etymology, the OED says that 'meh' is “probably imitative,” but doesn’t say of what. It notes two prevailing theories on word's origin: “It is unclear whether there is any direct connection with earlier (rare) mneh (1969 in W. H. Auden), or with the Yiddish meh ‘be it as it may’, ‘so-so’ (1928 or earlier).”

Moon landing - Worth seeing? Mneh!

The poet W. H. Auden mocked the interest in the moon landing in 1969 with a poem that features the word ‘mneh’: “Worth going to see? I can well believe it. Worth seeing? Mneh! I once rode through a desert and was not charmed: give me a watered lively garden, remote from blatherers.”

It is not known how Auden came up with ‘mneh’ - perhaps he just made it up, or perhaps he heard a Jewish friend use ‘meh’.

There is very little evidence of early use of ‘meh’ in Yiddish, but the fourth edition of Alexander Harkavy's Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary published in 1928 has an entry for mem-ayin, pronounced meh, which reads “Be that as it may," or "so-so.” Meh may have been come over with Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe countries and joined English as they assimilated.

Electoral fraud in Springfield? Meh

Whether or not Yiddish is the source of the word, what really made meh popular was television.

On October 9, 1994, Fox aired the 108th episode of “The Simpsons”, called “Sideshow Bob Roberts,” in which a clerk responds to Lisa’s charges that the Springfield mayoral elections had been carried out improperly with a shrug and a “Meh.” The show continued to use the word in its episodes and it chimed well with the millennials who were watching.

As the I-don't-care attitude of the generation gained in popularity so did 'meh,' and as its use grew, speakers began to use the word in new ways.

As an adjective, the OED defines ‘meh’: “Mediocre; unexceptional, uninspiring; (also) unenthusiastic.” The earliest use of ‘meh’ in this way found by the editors of the OED was from the Guardian's’ Guide supplement in 2007: “The man could scarcely walk. Two hours later he was cheerfully high-kicking a suicide bomber out the back of a train. Nuts. But somehow it all seemed, to use a bit of internet parlance, a bit ‘meh’.”

In 2008, HarperCollins announced that it was adding ‘Meh’ to its 30th anniversary edition of its Collins English Dictionary. The fifth edition of “The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary,” published in 2014, included “meh” in it for the first time. It was only natural that in 2015, the OED would follow suit and induct ‘meh’ into its venerable tome, among its over 600,000 entries.



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