Jesus mept

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John McIntyre, "Meep me daddy, eight to the bar":

The principal of a high school in Massachusetts recently banned the word meep in his school, threatening any student who used it, spoken or written, with expulsion. His rationale is that the students were using the word in a disruptive manner.

Of course they were. That is what adolescents do. Few teen pleasures are keener than getting under the skin of officious adults. And the principal, one Thomas Murray, lost composure sufficiently to forward e-mails containing meep to the local police.

John links to Erin McKean's recent meepographical retrospective in the Boston Globe's Ideas section, which cited some of the more creative derivations:

Combine a blank slate like meep and the natural tendency of English to produce new words with suffixes and affixes (and then throw in a little paronomasia, or punning) and you have plenty of scope for meep-related fun. The students (meepsters or meepers) were supposedly planning a mass-meeping, at which people might get meeped, which of course would cause meep-ruption. Meep proved to be an excellent word for expressing disapproval of the ban – “Oh, for meep’s sake,” “Read it and meep,” – although one commenter at the popular discussion site MetaFilter felt the story merited the stronger “Jesus mept,” and another picked up on a popular conspiracy-theory trope with a rousing “WAKE UP MEEPLE!”

And the e-mails containing meep that Murray forwarded to the police? They may have been sent at the behest of members of the Facebook “MEEP” group (which currently has more than 5,000 members) who encouraged others to meep-roll the school administrators.

Erin cited our earlier coverage ("Meep: Truth or Onion?", 11/10/2009; "Meep ban update", 11/15/2009) in her list of "entertaining elements":

News of the ban made for a moderately sized sensation, full of entertaining elements – a (possibly) overzealous principal (who also forwarded e-mails containing the word meep to the local police), Muppet references (meep, as we all know, is what the hapless lab assistant Beaker says, often as things explode and catch fire around him), Road Runner references (with learned commentary at blogs such as Language Log, where it was pointed out that the fleet-footed bird’s beep-beep sounds more like meep-meep, with a spectrogram to prove it), students wearing “FREE MEEP” T-shirts, and social media references (the students allegedly used Facebook to coordinate their meeping).

I'm going to get ahead of the crowds and submit my WOTY ("word of the year") nomination early: meep.

[It's a surprise, by the way,  to find that the OED is completely meepless. I expected that the meeps would be a fungal disease of geese, mentioned in one of Hardy's novels, or that a meep-spring would be a device for adjusting the tension of rovings in a draw frame. It's rare (I think) to find such a phonotactically-probable monosyllable with no obsolete or technical applications. ]

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26 Comments »

  1. Mark P said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

    The principal sounds like a movie-maker's dream of what a principal should be for a Ferris Bueller-type high school.

  2. Julia P. said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

    Fun fact- "meeple" is actually already in use. It refers to a certain kind of game piece used in some Euro board games.

    http://www.meeplepeople.com/

  3. Steve said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

    This sounds uncannily similar to Frindle.

  4. Chaz said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

    This story is just meeping ridiculous. I'd venture to say that the principal's lack of composure only fueled the meepment; after all, if the students are using the word to "be disruptive" then how much more disruptive can it be if the word is banned? Fan-meeping-tastic move, there.

    [(myl) A teen rebel's dream, for sure. As I wrote at the time, I'm looking forward to the movie version.]

  5. William Lockwood said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

    I still don't get it. Has anybody figured out what's so bad about the word? The principal *is* just a nutjob, right? I feel like we should be reading this as we enter the month of April.

    [(myl) The problem was that students apparently started to use it as a way of annoying a specific teacher. As one of the students explained to NPR,

    Mr. SPIEWAK: We used to stand in front of this teacher's room and we would use it, you know, meep, meep, whatever, when, you know, we all came into the school in the morning. We were asked to move, we were asked to stop using the word. More kids began using it, interrupting his classroom time during the school day, and he just felt that, you know, it needed to stop.

    ]

  6. Sili said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

    It is to meep.

    The "meep-roll" was subtle.

    [(myl) The word adapts well to nearly all slogans, aphorisms and assorted cliches: "I'm meepin' it"; "The meep that keeps on meeping"; "One good meep deserves another"; "Meep and the world meeps with you"; ...]

  7. Peter Howard said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

    @ William Lockwood: I think the fact that there isn't anything intrisically bad about the word is precisely what makes it such a powerful disruptant. If it's used as a taunt, then both the student who utters it and the teacher will know it's a taunt, and know that the other knows, but the teacher can't sensibly object without looking silly. I'm sure there are ways of dealing with it, but the principal clearly hasn't worked out what they are.

    [(myl) This all happened in early November, and I believe that it's run its course by now. Erin McKean's article is a retrospective look from the perspective of a lexicographer, and doesn't (as far as I know) report any fresh skirmishes of meeping at Danvers High.]

  8. Me epistle on “Moopetsi meepotsi” « The Coming of the Toads said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 2:28 pm

    [...] the OED then to Finnegan’s Wake. We did so this morning looking for meep, following yet another Language Log thread. We found meep in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, on page 276, in footnote number [...]

  9. uberVU - social comments said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 2:31 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by languagelog: Jesus mept: John McIntyre, "Meep me daddy, eight to the bar":
    The principal of a high school in Massachusetts recen… http://bit.ly/8YDlED

  10. Peter Howard said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

    @ myl: OK…"hadn't worked out what they are", then. If the principal has succeeded in demeeping the school, he deserves credit. I've known examples of meep-like behaviour that persisted for meeping years.

  11. Cecily said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

    The students should start using a word such as "the" or "math" in a similarly "disruptive manner" and let the ridiculous head try to ban that word.

  12. Bobbie said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 5:45 pm

    A friend who teaches at a yeshiva (but who does not speak Yiddish) says that the kids there keep saying"Frack you!" and then insisting that Frack is a Yiddish word and he "just doesn't understand." Just a typical teenage prank! I'm trying to remember what we did at my school to irritate the teachers…..

  13. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 5:57 pm

    All this makes me very glad I don't teach high school anymore.

  14. Mr Fnortner said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 6:02 pm

    How about Planck or Bohr?

  15. mgh said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 7:05 pm

    re: obsolete or technical meanings of meep

    MEEP has been used widely to refer to miniature endplate potentials, the spontaneous electrical activity observed at synapses due to the stochastic release of single synaptic vesicles, which have been used to measure the "quantal content" of neurotransmitter in single vesicles.

    These are more often called MEPPs, as you would expect, but for reasons obscure to me there are also numerous scholarly publications referring to them as MEEPs. I dimly recall it is a back-formation from "miniature EEPs", where EEPs were evoked (elicited?) endplate potentials, i.e. activity "evoked" in a downstream nerve cell by stimulating the upstream one, but as mini-EEPs are spontaneous (not evoked), this name didn't make sense, and the terms were changed to MEPP and EPP for consistency. But, I can't find any reference supporting this memory.

    In any case, a google search for "+MEEP miniature endplate potential" seems to return several hundred scholarly articles, and there is a PubMed hit as early as 1979.

  16. Peter T said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

    The armed services used to have a term for this – "conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline". It could cover anything from murmuring to attempting to kill the adjutant.

  17. Dierk said,

    December 14, 2009 @ 4:55 am

    The meep shall inherit the world.

    Now, what happens if the pupils take on another word to disrupt, like, say, 'school' or 'Mister', will it be banned too? With a little bit of resolve the school can become a Carthusian cloister.

  18. Craig Russell said,

    December 14, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

    You guys need to be more understanding. After teaching high school for two years, I finally learned what this principal obviously knows from his years of experience: the best way to get teenagers to stop doing something is to let them know how much it annoys you and how powerless your previous efforts to stop it have been.

    If the principal had decided to deal with this problem by ignoring it, who knows how long it could have dragged on for?

    Now that the students see that by being annoying they are getting attention from the national news, I'm sure they'll realize how important it is that they stop.

  19. Forrest said,

    December 14, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

    Oh, for meep's sake!

  20. GWS said,

    December 15, 2009 @ 9:28 am

    In a very funny Australian tv show called Summer High Heights student often told teachers to get pluck ed, etc.

  21. rpsms said,

    December 15, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

    This was covered on a cartoon series I happened to catch a part of when my daughter was watching it years ago. The purposefully made-up word was "whomps" ("this whomps") and there was even a hearing with the fictitious board of education:

    1999

    http://www.bcdb.com/cartoon/7015-Story_Of_Whomps.html

    "Principal Prickly and Ms. Finster deem T.J.'s word "whomps" a cuss and punish him for it, starting a scandal that leads all the way to the B.O.E."

  22. CosmicConservative said,

    December 15, 2009 @ 11:01 pm

    At my high school, some of my friends started using the word "okra" as a joke expletive, saying things like "Oh Okra that!" My best friend nearly got suspended by the math teacher. I believe he was sentenced to write "I will not say 'okra' in class" 500 times on the blackboard.

    It's one of the funniest stories we have from our school daze.

  23. Berry said,

    December 16, 2009 @ 6:00 am

    A genuine early literary usage of meep:
    “Then, just as he was about to creep back from that detestable flame, he saw a stirring among the vague dark forms and heard a peculiar and unmistakable sound. It was the frightened meeping of a ghoul, and in a moment it had swelled to a veritable chorus of anguish.”
    – H P Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, 1927.

  24. nemryn said,

    December 19, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

    I know I've seen the word in other places, though. The noise the Looney Tunes Roadrunner makes is occasionally transcribed as "meep meep", as are the noises made by some of the Muppets.

  25. John Kingston said,

    December 30, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

    When I entered college in 1972, my roommate used "meep" as a derogatory term to describe anyone he didn't much like. I assumed then that it was his own coinage (he never admitted to anything else), and I've since used in successfully as a non-word in a Ganong lexical bias experiment. I guess I won't be able to repeat that experiment now.

  26. Frindle « Arnold Zwicky's Blog said,

    June 8, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

    [...] back in 2009, Mark Liberman posted on Language Log (with quotes from John McIntyre and Erin McKean) on the episode of meeping in a [...]

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