Tag Archives: linguistics

Neo-CroMagnon Man in the Age of the Blackberry

17 May

This all started very innocently. I was trying to think up a word to describe a movie I watched which would fall somewhere in between “hated it” and “not great, but sort of alright I guess.” “Meh” immediately sprang to mind.

This got me thinking on a tangent, wondering if “meh” is even a real word in the sense of being recognized beyond the ken of everyday colloquial parlance. Using my Google-fu I discovered, rather to my surprise, that “meh” is indeed an honest-to-god-dictionary-honored-word as of 2008. In an article I found detailing the word’s induction to the Collins English Dictionary (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/11/17/meh/) there was a quote which I found worth copying:

“The rise of meh is apparently a sign of how email and the interwebs are “creating language”. McKeown explained: “Internet and email are playing a big part in formalising the spellings of vocal interjections like these. Other examples would be hmm and heh, which are both now ubiquitous online and in emails. People are increasingly writing in a register somewhere in between spoken and written English.”

Some people would call this a corruption of the English language. I have to admit that I find it a bit crass when someone inserts a “LOL” into a real-life conversation. However, in order to corrupt something, it has to be static- it has to have reached a pinnacle beyond which it can be no better, but language is one of the most fluid aspects of our lives. As the culture changes, the language must evolve to keep up. There simply is no point of “best” for language because it must adapt to fit the needs of the people who use it. Unless we as people stop changing, language will continue to do so.

There’s a book called Feed, by M.T. Anderson (brilliant book, by the way) in which there exists little to no difference between the way people speak on the computer and how they speak elsewhere. This is because most of them are hooked up to an internet “feed” 24/7, so most of life is on the computer. The character’s speech is mainly shallow, rife with one syllable words, lots of “like” this and “like” that. Shakespearean? No. Language evolving to suit the needs of its users? Yes.

As our technological evolution continues to create more and more ways for people to communicate via screens and boxes, maybe we are linguistically regressing. Maybe it’s not actually the calamity people seem to think it is. Our ancestors communicated through grunts originally- maybe they had more meaning than we tend to give credence to. Really, is there much difference between a grunt and a “meh”? Not really, but “meh” is a nuanced, flavorful word which with one sound indicates a variety of levels of meaning depending on how it is intoned- a fast conveyance of meaning in a relentlessly fast-paced world where half-hour old news is old news.

It’s survival of the fittest, and in a world where Twitter exists, “meh” just might be the new (or is it old?) breed of language.