No, we’re not referring to everyone’s favourite newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald. SMH is a commonly used Internet acronym used to show disappointment. Are you wondering what it means and where it comes from? What does SMH mean? Read on to find out.
What Does SMH Mean?
SMH stands for Shakes My Head or Shaking My Head. According to Urban Dictionary, the axis mundi of Internet slang, it is:
“A sarcastic phrase meant to downplay the complaint or misfortune of another person.”
A common misconception is that it stands for So Much Hate. It is easy to see where the confusion arises from since these are both phrases that can apply to the same situations, and they are both intended to be derisive towards people and ideas that are perceived as ignorant, foolish, or bad.
There are many Internet acronyms that are derived from, or otherwise associated with SMH. These include:
- SMDH – Shaking My Damn Head
- SMGDH – Shaking My God Damn Head
- SMHID – Shaking My Head In Disperse
- SMHL – Shaking My Head Laughing
Text-based communication, the main form of Internet discussion, lacks the social cues and body language of face-to-face discussion. Because of this many acronyms that are commonly used refer to actions of the head or face. Other head and face acronyms include:
- LMHO – Laughing My Head Off
- FP – Face Palm (in response to something idiotic)
- NMH – Nodding My Head
- HHIS – Hangs Head In Shame
Where do Internet acronyms come from?
A lot of the abbreviation slang used in digital communication today owes its origin to Short Messaging Service, or SMS. This was the service that allowed pre-smartphone texting, and is still one of the most commonly used digital massage services in the world. In 2010 about 6.1 trillion SMS text messages were sent. SMS messages are limited to 1120 bits per message. This allows for between 70 to 160 characters, depending on the content (for example Arabic, Chinese or other non-ASCII characters take up more bits). Aside from this restriction, the awkward nature of inputting characters on pre-smart phones also created a limitation.
Due to these restrictions in message size, SMS language – also known as txt-speak – emerged as a way to be more economical with communications. This is mostly done by:
- Truncation – tomoz rather than tomorrow
- Removing vowels – txt rather than text
- Using number characters – l8r rather than later
- Acronyms or abbreviations – lol rather than laugh out loud
- Emoji – images that represent emotions
Arguably the constraints placed on the technology have directed people toward a more efficient, information-dense form of communication. Many of the superfluous grammatical requirements of the English language are dropped from txt-speak. Not everyone thinks this is a great idea though, many argue that children who use txt-speak are loosing the ability to spell and use proper grammar.
Is txt-speak damaging the English language?
According to a survey by Mencap, two-in-three teachers in the UK regularly find txt-speak in their students’ homework. However, are their ideas any less thorough, or is the English language just changing into a thing that older people are less comfortable with? Academics have argued on both sides of this topic.
Are you able to decipher txt-speak? Try and read the next paragraph of this article, translated into txt-speak courtesy of transl8it.com, an online service that claims to translate between plain English and text-lingo:
Most Xperts BlEv dat chldrn wrte mo thN dey did 20 years ago due 2 constant interaction w social media & d Internet. However, lngwij doesn’t chAng instantly. It iz vital dat chldrn hav d ability 2 wrte formal eng n ordr 2 entR d job mrkt & achieve futR sukses.
Tip: If that’s complete nonsense to you, head over to transl8it.com and convert it back into English.
This can all seem a bit daunting and modern, but these techniques have origins further back than the advent of mobile telephones. Telegram style, or telegraphese, used abbreviations in order to fit more information into a message that was paid for per character. The cost of telegram communication even gave rise to a whole market of ciphers, codes and other tricks to condense information into a short message. Foe example the Adams Cable Codex, printed in 1894, was a whole book of common phrases linked to code words that allowed communication using a bare minimum of characters.
In George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, the characters use a fictional simplification of the English language called Newspeak. Newspeak is presented as a way to limit and control thought. It includes abbreviations and truncations as well as a restricted vocabulary. For example:
- BB stands for Big Brother, the authority figure.
- Thinkpol means the Thought Police.
- Upsub means to submit to a higher authority.
As we see txt-speak used in television and advertising, as well as on the Internet, some might fear that it has a limiting effect on our ability to think. However, there is no evidence for this. None the less, there is public concern about the use of txt-speak among the younger generation damaging the English language.
Leet, or l33t, is an even more extreme example of Internet slang. It makes extensive use of substitutions and has a developing, inconsistently observed, series of grammatical rules that exist to be cryptic and/or entertaining. Leet first emerged in the 1990s on Internet message boards and online gaming. On occasion it slips through into popular Internet culture, with terms such as:
- Haxxor or H4x0r – hacker
- n00b – newbie or beginner
- pwn’d – to dominate, destroy or be victorious.
- w00t – we owned the other team.
- pr0n – Pornography. Used to circumvent filters and search-engine restrictions.
- n0rp – The above, reversed for further obscurity.
Common substitutions in l33t involve:
- A – 4
- E – 3
- l – 1
- o = 0
- O = ()
- U = |_|
- T = 7
- D = |)
- W = \/\/
- S = $
So the sentence “I am speaking leet” might look something like: “1 4m 5p34k1n6 |337”. These days most consider l33t usage to be a sign of immaturity, and it is often used in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
Bullying in Txt-Speak
As a parent you may be concerned that your child could be a victim, or even a perpetrator, of bullying using txt-speak. If so, you might worry that you would not be able to understand the incriminating messages even if you had access to them. When children are around their devices all the time is can become impossible to keep tabs on everything that is going on. Because of this, it is vital to teach children how to exercise care and consideration when using text-based communication. When the veil of anonymity shields children from the emotional effects of their words, they can easily become callous or simply inconsiderate to the thoughts and feelings of others. This can be combatted by teaching them to not say things in texts that they would not say IRL (in real life).
Equally, potential victims of text-based bullying should be taught to be sensible with who they share their number or social media details with.
If text-based communications contain something that is discriminatory or threatening then the situation has escalated. You should take this information to the school, offender’s parents or, in extreme situations, law enforcement. With the right education, parenting and support systems, we can all say SMH to all forms of bullying, both online and IRL.