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The AV Club Made Me Think Far Too Much about the Word “Meh”

January 20, 2011

I am not a resolution maker. Sure, I have personal goals and things that I know I can work on, but I hardly ever sit down to think up my yearly “resolutions.”  So, it is a rare occasion that I read an article that makes me evaluate myself, let alone my reactions. Especially my reactions pop culturey things.

But after reading The AV Club’s article pitting the attitude of intense hyperbole versus the holier-than-thou throne of “meh,” I found myself amazed by how much I was thinking about my usage of the word “meh” (Not that I never use hyperbole, I do. I just use “meh” much more often.) and even more amazed that I found myself resolving to banish it from my vocabulary.

The entire article, which is actually a debate between two people, makes valid and thought-provoking points about the pros and cons of both passion and apathy, at least in the realm of critical responses to culture, (The same arguments can probably be made the passion/apathy in politics or religion, but those are icky topics…so we won’t talk about them). While reading I found myself nodding my head from point to point, agreeing with most of what was said. But what really made me think about my reactions was this statement:

“Hyperbole has its side career as a selling tool or attention-grabber, but as an argumentative tool, it and “meh” come from the same place: a desire to belittle and infuriate someone whose opinions disagree with yours, while expending as little energy as possible.”

For me, this sentence was a simultaneous slap in the face and cold shower–I’m a big user of “meh,” and I’ve never considered those three letters to be a response that would infuriate, let alone belittle someone. I’ve always thought it was more along the lines of “Whatever” or “I don’t know.” But after thinking about it, “meh” really is a dismissive defense mechanism that says “I don’t care enough about this to formulate a response, and so I will make a muppetesque noise instead.”

And that’s both annoying and rude. But more than that, it’s ignorant. As a person who values words, using “meh” seems to be hypocritical. So why do I use it?

I spent the last year of my life in a writing program for critics and was therefore surrounded by hyper-opinionated people. And that can be exhausting. So instead of perpetuating an argument or debate with my opinion that was neither laudatory nor condemning, I would just say “meh” when it was my turn to offer my thoughts. It was my easy out, my automatic response that I thought was a signal to others that I either  had no knowledge or real opinion of the subject at hand and that they could go ahead and duke it out without dragging me into it.

And now “meh” has become a crutch–it’s become a habit for me to spit out that word instead of “The B-plot was a little dry and the leading actor could have used a dose of sensitivity,” or “I really enjoyed the cinematography, but the acting was uninspired.”

But with this article I now realize that when I say “meh,” it not only keeps me from thoughtfully considering what the other person is saying so that I can craft an equally thoughtful response, it cut them down and abruptly ends the conversation.

So, here’s my 2011 resolution: I am resolving to stop using “meh” as a response, unless “meh” is truly what I mean.

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