December 25, 1826, at West Point was not a typical Christmas morning. Cadets stumbled from their barracks, clothes torn or astrew. Many were barefoot, cursing, still drunk from the night before. Behind the cadets, West Point’s North Barracks stood in a state of near ruin. Windows had been smashed, along with the building’s furniture. Banisters had been ripped from stairways, thrown down with other rubble. Shards of shattered plates, dishes an cups lined the ground. Looking at the mix of hungover and drunk cadets, the officer of the day dismissed the corps. It had been a long night for everyone. There had been, after all, a riot–caused by egg nog.
Photo: Alexander Harkavy
The term “meh,” defined as “an expression of indifference or boredom,” entered the Collins English Dictionary in 2008. According to Know Your Meme, the term’s origins trace back to a 1992 “Melrose Place” online forum in which one commenter wrote, “Meh… far too Ken-doll for me…” The Simpsons, however, is largely credited for introducing meh into the common parlance. A 1994 episode had a store clerk replying “meh,” and in a 2001 episode, Lisa Simpson spells “meh” out loud to express her indifference, according to Know Your Meme.
According to Google, the word’s popularity as a search term peaked on November 2008, corresponding to its incorporation into the dictionary, and its steady usage has been on the rise since then. A couple years back, the New York Times Magazine’s “Meh List” began offering an outlet to express the most meh of meh moment, and there’s more even more meh to be found by searching Twitter for #mehlist-worthy items that seem to permeatemost people’s lives.
Meh, however, likely emerged decades before “The Simpsons” did it first. Slate’s Ben Zimmer traces the word back to Alexander Harkavy’s 1928, fourth edition Yiddish-English-Hebrew dictionary, which lists מע (me).
The definitions as an interjection meaning “be it as it may” and an adjective meaning “so-so” track fairly closely to current uses of meh. As you can see, Harkavy defines it separately as a “bleating” interjection, which matches his entry in the 1898 edition of his dictionary: baa! bleat!
Discoveries by European explorers that didn’t involve claiming land where people were already living. Click to zoom. Photo: Bill Rankin via Slate