To Meep or Not To Meep

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beeker.JPGJust call them the Meep Generation.

A bunch of kids from Danvers (Mass.) High School nearly hopped into (ahem) a beaker full of hot water when they used the word meep as a method of social disruption.

Meep, to my ear, seems an odd sort of rallying cry for school chaos. Introduced to the English lexicon by Beaker, Dr. Honeydew’s orange-haired, no-necked assistant on The Muppet Show, meep has become (according to The Salem News) a word teens use when they’re at a loss for something to say. And while Salem’s news story didn’t specify just what manner of meepisms were going on or planned, they must’ve been pretty … meepish. The school’s principal sent an automated phone message to all students’ parents, warning them if their teens said or displayed the word at school, they could be suspended.

“It has nothing to do with the word,” said Danvers principal Thomas Murray. “It has to do with the conduct of the students. We wouldn’t just ban a word just to ban a word.”

Essentially, the principal was riffing on the old parenting cliché, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” And it’s true. Words, by themselves, are just letters strung together. We give words their power through meaning and inflection. Words like “frig” or “freak” are docile little constructs in themselves, but through modern-day usage, they’ve become stand-ins for a far more offensive f-word—and have, in a sense, taken on its meaning. Yosemite Sam could’ve burned his grandmother’s ears when he got on one of his foul-mouthed tears—yet the actual sentence was light on curses and heavy with words like “tarnation” and “galloot.”

More recently, Fantastic Mr. Fox doesn’t contain a single cuss word—but it does repeatedly use the word “cuss” in constructs that would feature actual cuss words (“you gotta be cussin’ me,” for instance). Do the woodland animals in Fantastic swear? Not in a way that would alarm censors or trigger a ClearPlay machine. And yet they do all the same. Maybe you could think of folks in your own life who invest an extraordinary amount of power in rather ordinary words.

I doubt these Danvers high schoolers are turning meep into a swear word. But they were able to imbue it with a power Beaker would’ve not dreamed of … and that, in and of itself, is a pretty effective English lesson if they take it as such. We gotta watch what we say … and how we say it.

Pretty fascinating, this language of ours. When I think about it deeply, really only one word comes to mind.

Meep.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  MountainMom:

I am in a season of trying to explain to my young kids which words are and are not "bad words." For instance, my 6 year old son asks me "Mom, is dangit a bad word?" to which I reply "no," and then I correct myself and say "well, yes," and then, realizing I use it all the time, I retort, "well, not really." Ugh. Parenting is hard to do.

But I love how you say "We give words their power through meaning and inflection." I will use this explanation with my kids. It is the same difficult situation when I try to explain how the words "Oh God" can be used in a fantastic worshipful way, or a degrading cursed way. It's all about what's in our hearts. If we are angry, even if "blasted pickle" comes out, it could be interpreted as cursing.