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What's Wrong With Meh?

"Meh" quietly entered our lexicon back in the early 2000s, when The Simpsons began to use it on a semi-regular basis. In this teensy clip, Bart and Lisa literally spell it out:

In this later episode, the word needs no explanation. It speaks for itself:

Pretty soon it started showing up everywhere, including, in 2008, dictionaries. The Collins English Dictionary defines "meh" as "an interjection to suggest indifference or boredom - or as an adjective to say something is mediocre or a person is unimpressed." I'd say that pretty well sums it up.

So what's wrong with meh? There's been a minor backlash against it of late, spearheaded, if you can call it that, by man-about-town John Hodgman, who on his Twitter feed recently declared (in several 140-character chunks):

Did I ever tell you people how much I hate the word "meh"? Nothing announces "I have missed the point" more than that word. It is the essence of blinkered Internet malcontentism. And a rejection of joy.

By definition, it may mean disinterest (although simple silence would be a more damning and sincere response, in that case), but in use, it almost universally seems to signal: I am just interested enough to make one last joyless, nitpicky swipe and then disappear

I love that Hodgman argues against meh by making an argument for joy. Is meh really a rejection of joy? What do you think?

It reminds me of a song from the Arcade Fire's new album. (An aside: I think I've decided they're the spokesband for my generation.) The lyrics go:

Now the kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
The kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
Now, some things are pure and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight
I said some things are pure and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight

So young, so young
So much pain for someone so young, well
I know it's heavy, I know it ain't light
But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?

Listen, it's catchy.

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fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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