Meep: Truth or Onion?

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This story ("What's wrong with 'meep'? It's all in how you say it", 11/10/2009) comes from a real newspaper rather than from the Onion, but sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

[Phonetic and sociolinguistic update — As you can hear, Beaker's vocalizations are more like /mi/ than /mip/, though they are conventionally transcribed "meep":

Apparently the 'p' is silent.

As for Road Runner, his vocalizations are often transcribed "beep beep" (as here), but sound (and look) much more like "meep meep":

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

And as for the "disruption some students were planning online", there are several meep or meepmeep groups on Facebook, but none of them appear to pose a clear and present danger to the pedagogical environment of Danvers High School. But I gather that behind the scenes, social media were being used to plan mass meepage in the hallways, which might indeed threaten the mental equilibrium of an unpopular teacher, whose classroom door was apparently due to be the meepological epicenter prior to the principal's stern meeplomatic warning. I'm looking forward to the movie version.]

[Update #2 — there are some good jokes on this topic at, including reference to the dire possibility that young meepers may move on to harder stuff, like bork or manamana:

A commenter there also predicted t-shirts reading "Meep is murder".

The story has been picked up by UPI, but without any additional reporting. ]


  1. Mr Fnortner said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

    And all along I thought "meep" was half of what the Roadrunner says to Wile E. Coyote.

  2. Dan T. said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

    Throughout history, there have been overstuffed pompous asses as school administrators who made a point of banning every faddish thing that's "in" among the kids at a given moment, from rock 'n roll to Garbage Pail Kids cards to, apparently, the word "meep". The predictable effect is to make the kids want to do the forbidden thing, even after the craze would normally have faded out as such things always do.

  3. Simon Spero said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

    Muppetisms can easily disrupt a learning environment. For example, next time you're in a seminar or on a panel, and a colleague uses the word 'phenomenon', just quietly sing 'do-do de do-do'.

  4. Ray Girvan said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

    Sounds like total wəbble.

  5. Larry Sheldon said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 4:26 pm

    I thought that was the sound The Roadrunner makes.

    Learn something new every day.

    By the way.

    We are doomed.

  6. Jonathan Badger said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

    I was going to make a joke about it being the sound that Beaker from the Muppet Show made, but from the article, that's the intended reference? I don't get the problem.

  7. Nathan Myers said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 4:58 pm

    Murray is a Professional Educator, and he's Educating those kids. If they don't develop a healthy disrespect for official pomposity early on, when will they develop it? If they don't learn mindless obedience to disrespected petty officialdom in school, it might take years on the job. He's doing them a favor. Suspended is better than fired. Right?

  8. Alex said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

    I bet those kids would never start a sentence with a conjunction.

  9. sweater said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 6:02 pm

    I find this sentence really perplexing:

    "No one really knows [what 'meep' means]," said sophomore Melanie Crane, who said some freshmen used the term, but she has not heard the term used herself."

    How does Ms. Crane know some freshmen use the term if she has not heard the term used herself? She must be employing the use/mention distinction. For even if she has never heard anyone *use* the term "meep," I cannot see how she would know that some freshmen use it unless she had heard reportage to that extent (though her source was mentioning and not using the term when reporting on its usage among the freshmen).

  10. Theophylact said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 6:20 pm

    Oh, I thought you said neep:

    A neep or tumshie is the ruit crap brassica rapa var. rapa that's aft growen in maumie climates athort the warld for its white, bulbous tapruit. Smaw, neshy kynds is growen for human consumption, while lairger kynds is growen as feed for stock. Neeps is weel-likit in Europe, parteecular in caulder airts, sith they growe weel in cauld climates an can be keepit for mony months efter the hairst.

    [(myl) Certainly no Burns Supper would be complete with the bashit neeps.]

  11. D.O. said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

    Well, that's completely uninformative. What did the students plan to do with meep? Hackle someone? And why "parts of the building" are relevant? The only satisfactory part is the flying witch as newspaper's emblem. I even thought for a moment that the newspaper is a sort of The Onion.

  12. Sandra Wilde said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

    In the 1970's, the Toronto subway system tried to get people to say "Meep meep" when they wanted to get by people to get off the train. They attributed it to Roadrunner as a variant of "Beep beep." Needless to say, it didn't catch on.

  13. Peter Taylor said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

    I have come across "meep" as synonym of "eek" in some circles in England.

  14. Forrest said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 7:01 pm

    At least their other headlines don't read like The Onion, but that's as far as I read, after this bizarre article.

  15. Gavin said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 8:03 pm

    I too am perplexed by the repeated references to "parts of the building". It sounds like the article was written for the students, and not the greater public.

  16. Eli Morris-Heft said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

    @Peter Taylor: Not just England. That's a common use in my social circle too, perhaps influenced by anime. It's [mip] or [i:p], always pretty well enunciated, usually in a high pitch, never reduplicated, and (at least in my estimation) completely distinct both from the Roadrunner and from Beaker. It's generally an expression of surprise or a silence-filler.

    Still, reading the article, my reaction is something along the lines of "Huh what who how what now?"

  17. peter said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 9:26 pm

    Perhaps the Roadrunner example is related to a phenomenon I have noticed in the speech of young American women (and only they) these last two decades: the pronunciation of the word "bye" (short for "goodbye") as "mbye", with the initial "em" sound sometimes almost silent and sometimes not at all. Does anyone know any more about this?

    Is it related to the American pronunciation of "hello" as "yhello"?

  18. S Hawkins said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 9:37 pm

    Language Log makes one cool in the eyes of one's children. I read all of this to my kids and they were amazed and apalled. They are concocting plans to introduce "meep" into their schools

  19. Vicki Baker said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 10:21 pm

    We are the juvenile delinquents who say "meep"! If you do not appease us, we shall say "meep" to you!

  20. Mr Fnortner said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

    An interesting reference:

  21. uberVU - social comments said,

    November 11, 2009 @ 3:31 am

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by languagelog: Meep: Truth or Onion?: This story ("What's wrong with 'meep'? It's all in how you say it", 11/10/2009) comes from a …

  22. Liz OShea said,

    November 11, 2009 @ 7:19 am

    If you say 'meep' and 'ni' at a ni-high pitch very quickly, it is difficult to distinguish between the two.

  23. DaveK said,

    November 11, 2009 @ 8:17 am

    What the Roadrunner said was "mm-beep-beep" (the sound of an approaching engine followed by a horn). Trust me. My brothers and I spent a long time discovering the exact way to say it, so we could annoy our parents as much as possible.

    [(myl) Good theory. But the recording and spectrogram above, taken from an actual cartoon sound track, seem to call this theory into question. Can you point us to another cartoon sound track that supports your perception, which is a sensible one but may have been partly a post hoc rationalization?]

  24. Sili said,

    November 11, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

    I've always heard Roadrunner say "meep", but me ears are not to be trusted.

    I have, myself, though, used "meep-meep" to clear the way in front of me. It's been a while so I'll not swear on it, but I imagine that I'd use it if I was in a hurry, rather than overloaded, in which case I'd go "ah-HOOO-ga".

  25. Alex said,

    November 11, 2009 @ 1:25 pm

    As far as I know, Beaker has always said 'Mi'. The Roadrunner was supposed to say beepbeep, perhaps not so much because he actually said it, but because it is the conventional onomatopeia for a car horn.

  26. Frans said,

    November 11, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

    This story reminds me of the Knights Who Say Ni! I can only imagine the poor teachers being tortured by legions of students saying /mi/ or /mip/ in "parts of the building."

  27. Mark K said,

    November 11, 2009 @ 4:36 pm

    This came up on AskMe a while back; a first-hand account revealed that, while spelled "beep beep", it is in fact pronounced "meep meep".

  28. Mark K said,

    November 11, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

    (re: Roadrunner, that is)

  29. Alex said,

    November 11, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

    In Lovecraft's Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, the Ghouls communicate by meeping. Perhaps the students were planning some unholy lovecraftian horror.

  30. Kapitano said,

    November 12, 2009 @ 1:29 am

    What about "yip yip"-ing?

  31. Neal Goldfarb said,

    November 12, 2009 @ 3:18 am

    First they came for the communists, and I did not meep out—because I was not a communist;

    Then they came for the socialists, and I did not meep out—because I was not a socialist;

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not meep out—because I was not a trade unionist;

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not meep out—because I was not a Jew;

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to meep out for me.

  32. Sili said,

    November 12, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

    I do realise that by now I've gone completely off topic, but Kapitano's comment forces me to link this video.

  33. Friday Updates: The Sublime and the Ridiculous | Eric Pazdziora said,

    November 13, 2009 @ 7:37 pm

    […] Language Log reports the stranger-than-fiction case of a high school principal who made a rule forbidding students from using a certain four-letter word. The odd thing is, the word in question was (cover your eyes, kids!) "meep." This being Language Log, they offer phonological analysis of the vocalizations of Beaker and Road Runner, and the astute observation of  "the dire possibility that young meepers may move on to harder stuff, like bork or manamana." […]

  34. Carl Coyote said,

    November 14, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

    It's definitely "Meep, meep".

  35. Heather said,

    November 20, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

    I thought it came out of the fantasy and D&D gaming genres. Supposedly young dragons other fantasy critters said "meep" instead of "cheep." When humans (in game and IRL) said "meep" it was a cute way to say "eek" or "uh-oh." It signified that one had regressed to a baby state when confronted with some overwhelming situation.

    At least that's what it meant when I was a geek in college in the 1980s-90s.

  36. Mia (Meepa?) said,

    December 21, 2009 @ 8:35 pm

    I have been using 'meep' for years, as a substitute for 'eek', as a more general expression of surprise or delight, and occasionally to get someone's attention.

    Perhaps Heather is on to something, since I was a geek in the 80s and 90s.

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