Wikipedia defines the word “meh” as “an interjection, often an expression of apathy, indifference or boredom.” It is commonly used to express an extreme lack of enthusiasm or positive emotion. This can be a reaction to something you experience. For example, if someone asks, “What did you think of the latest Harry Potter film?” replying “meh” would mean something like, “I didn’t hate it enough to walk out, but that’s about the best I can say.” “Meh” can also be your response to a proposed course of action. If someone asks, “How about pizza for dinner tonight?” and you answer “meh,” it means, “I won’t bash your head in with a crowbar for suggesting it, but I am in no way on board with this plan.”
As I read up on Canadian history, two things strike me. First: pirates. Specifically, Newfoundland pirates like Peter Easton (who captured the Sheriff that England sent to arrest him) and the Kirke brothers (who captured Quebec). The first Governor of Newfoundland was a pirate (David Kirke). That’s just awesome. And the awesomeness continues among the Saskatchewan pirates.
The second thing that stands out is the number of times that Canadian history has been shaped by the power of “meh.” On many occasions, Canadians have been asked (or commanded) to take certain actions (sometimes by other countries, and sometimes by other Canadians), and they have responded with “meh.” Not really responding with outright rebellion or gunfire or massive protests, just an extreme lack of enthusiasm. And that “meh” has created the Canada we now know.
This is a partial listing of some of the prominent history-shaping Canadian “meh”s:
** In February of 1763, France signed away its North American holdings (except for St. Pierre and Miquelon and some of Louisiana). A few months later, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 established the “Province of Quebec” with James Murray as Governor. The Proclamation was a very good deal for “Canadians,” but a very bad deal for “Canadiens,” and Murray also faced considerable pressure from English Protestant merchants to put the boot down on those Frenchies, lest they start getting ideas.
Murray’s reply: “Meh.”
** In 1775, the Americans were taking a very “non-meh” approach to gaining independence from Britain. During the build-up to the Revolution, the American colonists invited Canada to send delegates to the Continental Congress, and sent the following:
“By His Excellency, George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Army of the United Colonies of North America. To the inhabitants of Canada: Friends and Brethren, the unnatural Contest between the English Colonies and Great-Britain has now risen to such a height that Arms alone must decide it… Come then, my Brethren, unite with us in an indissoluble Union, let us run together to the same Goal.”
The Canadian reply: “Meh.”
** As American and British troops fought it out, and American forces pushed toward Quebec City, Quebec Governor Guy Carleton believed that the French Canadians (grateful that the Quebec Act of 1774 permitted them to be kinda sorta half French in their laws and practices) would rise up and happily defend their British overlords from the rampaging Americans.
The Quebec reply: “Meh.”
** During the War of 1812, General Hull marched into Upper Canada, expecting Canadians to happily throw off the yoke of British rule and join the Union (which makes sense, since Americans are composed of 50% Cool, 45% Awesome, and 5% Chuck Norris Jokes, so who WOULDN’T want to be American?).
The Canadian reply: “Meh.”
** Last on our list: when it came to relations with the British Empire, Wilfrid Laurier was the “Meh” Heard Round the World. Joseph Chamberlain proposed a Council of the Empire in 1897, so that military and economic power could be consolidated. Laurier said “meh.” And he kept saying “meh.” Military unification? “Meh.” An imperial common market? “Meh.” Boer War? “Meh.” His critics started calling him “Sir Won’tfrid.”
There we have it. The Canadian “meh” is a powerful thing, not to be taken lightly.
What do you think? Does “meh” still resonate in the Canadian heart? Is this the hidden answer to why Canada did not join the US and Britain and Australia in the 2003 invasion of Iraq? Is this the hidden answer to why the 1995 Quebec referendum was defeated? Is this the hidden answer to why so many of my students get to the end of the semester and STILL haven’t picked a paper topic?
Written by Dr. Charles Hackney. Associate Professor of Psychology at Briercrest College and Seminary.
(This Flashback Friday article was originally posted August 2, 2010.)