A recent AP article states lexcographers have become so excited about the informal expression “meh” that the Collins English Dictionary decided to make it an official word. This prompted many, including myself, to wonder:
1. What is a lexicographer?
2. Should we be afraid if informal expressions excite them?
I am, of course, joking. As any dictionary will tell you, a lexicographer is a person who makes maps. And who wouldn’t be excited about “meh” as a real phrase? This word — meaning indifference or boredom — has been making a comeback ever since it debuted, if you remember, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
Claudius: To be or not to be, that is the question.
Hamlet: (Stage left, behind potted plant. Whimpers in rage and self-hatred.)
“Meh” went unnoticed for centuries — Shakespearean insults such as “Thou vain, unwash’d bladder!” were much cooler — but now it’s gaining popularity, especially here at the University. For example, when someone asks you whether you’re buying season football tickets next year, a popular response used to be “heck yes,” but now we say “meh” instead. “Meh” is also a favorite reply when someone wants to know if you plan on voting in the next Michigan Student Assembly elections. (Note: “What are those?” might be an even more common response.)
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Should I call a Diag preacher a vain, unwash’d bladder?” (No. Refrain from eloquence and call him a dirty bladder, then bite your thumb at him.) You’re also thinking, “Well yeah, it really comes as no surprise that ‘meh’ is a word now — it’s basically ‘eh’ with an ‘m’. But what about other cool slang that we want to see as real words, like ‘irregardless’ ? ”
Excellent point. As any decent editor will tell you, the best journalists use Wikipedia to research these important issues. But I wanted to go even further — so I attempted to contact Collins English Dictionary, which is based, inexplicably, in Scotland. (But after a quick Wikipedia search, I discovered that they speak both Scottish and English over there, so it makes sense.)
Before doing so, I did some more research and discovered that the Collins English Dictionary editors, having grown bored from editing dictionaries, had encouraged readers to submit conversational, non-dictionary words and promised one submission would be published as a new word. As a result, many readers who were bored of reading dictionaries sent in their suggestions (even though most of them hadn’t had a conversation in years). It came as no surprise that “meh” was chosen, though there were some interesting candidates. For instance, the term “frenemies” (French for “split personality”) was a popular submission. So was “huggles,” but since no normal person would ever utter the word in public, it didn’t win.
This information changed everything. Suddenly, I knew I had to make a suggestion myself, rather than bore the Collins English Dictionary people to death with journalistic questions. However, picking a slang word that the entire campus would like to see made official is easier said than done. Finally, after ages of consideration, after thinking of popular books, movies and other entertainment, I had it. What follows is a completely verbatim transcript of an e-mail exchange between Anna MacDermid, a Collins Dictionary support assistant and myself.
Will: Hello! I recently learned that your 30th anniversary English Dictionary will include “meh” as a word. I think this is very exciting and I also wonder if you will include “muggle,” too, a derogatory noun — as in, “Don’t lie to me, you filthy muggle.” Thank you!
Anna: Hi William — Thank you for your email — we appreciate feedback from our dictionary fans. I will forward your suggestion to our dictionary editors.
I will forward your suggestion. History in the making! Perhaps I wasted my chance by requesting “muggle,” but it’s such a good insult — whenever you accuse someone of not being a wizard, you know you’ve crossed a line.
Though compared to “vain, unwash’d bladder,” it’s a bit meh.
Will Grundler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.