What is it? An expression of pure and supreme indifference, three non-committal letters encapsulating the ennui of modern life…

What is it?An expression of pure and supreme indifference, three non-committal letters encapsulating the ennui of modern life, a linguistic shrug of the shoulders, a single sneering syllable that sums up the speaker's utter distaste and disengagement with the world.

Sorry I asked.

We've all been there. Someone is telling you something they think is very interesting, but you can't work up any enthusiasm for the subject. You'd like to say something along the lines of: "You've obviously mistaken me for someone who gives a hoot - now run along and bother someone else with your boring trivia", but you simply couldn't be bothered. So, instead, you scrunch up your mouth as if detecting a bad smell, turn your lips down, and deliver your succinct reply: "Meh."

How rude. People might think you're a very bad-mannered person altogether.


Meh is designed to be rude and dismissive - a sure-fire conversation-stopper. Users of the word are unequivocal in their total indifference to what is being discussed. Recipients of the word are under no illusion that the subject under discussion is of no interest to their listener. When giving voice to the total meh-ness of life, you're not going to be too concerned with etiquette.

So, where are you most likely to encounter the "meh" word?

The internet, the place where new social trends gestate. Meh hasn't entered popular usage yet, so it doesn't qualify for an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, but you'll find the web peppered with "meh", usually used as a handy substitute for "rubbish", "pants", "not much to write home about" and "total, unmitigated crap".

It could save reviewers having to refer to a thesaurus.

Bloggers use it freely when reviewing records, films and restaurants. It's a great catch-all term, but, sadly, newspapers don't pay much for single-word reviews, so we'll have to keep coming up with other adjectives.

So you won't find "meh" in any print media, then?

Not necessarily. The word is starting to creep into print - the earliest sighting was in Canada's Edmonton Sunin 2003. It's very useful for signalling that something is not worth wasting newsprint on, for example: "Boyzone are reforming. Meh."

So, is this the "meh" generation?

Could well be. Among the early adopters of the word was that young master of the snappy put-down, Bart Simpson, who is credited with using it in The Simpsonsperhaps as far back as 1992. Teenagers, always on the lookout for words to express their utter disdain for everything their parents stand for, have adopted "meh" as the default answer to such questions as "what kind of music is that?" and "when are you planning to move out and get a job?" For those who are so deeply apathetic they can't even work up the energy to say "meh", a website called offers "meh" T-shirts in a variety of styles, including babydoll, hoodie and "mini-meh". As the site says: "If you don't know what 'meh' means, perhaps your life just doesn't properly suck."

Try at work

"I couldn't be bothered telling the boss to stuff his job, so I sent a 'meh-mo' instead."

Try at home

"I'm worried about Graham - he hasn't said 'meh' for a week. Do you think he's losing his apathy?"

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist