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Three words made popular by The Simpsons

John Murray

I have to admit that a disturbing amount of my cultural knowledge stems from a particular American TV programme that’s been on our screens for the last 25 years. Whenever I’m trying to think about whether what seems like a very British phrase is ever used by Americans, I always find myself asking “has Homer ever said that?”

A whole generation has grown up with The Simpsons, and it’s even  affected the way we speak. Here are three words we would probably never have used if they hadn’t appeared on Matt Groening’s comedy cartoon creation:

1. D’oh

Arguably Homer Simpson’s most well-known catchphrase, ‘d’oh!’ pretty much sums the character up in one angry interjection. He’s dopey, ill-fated and easily annoyed, but well intentioned enough not to let naughty words slip out in front of the kids. The exclamation sums up any situation Homer is likely to find himself in, whether it’s falling down Springfield Gorge or having a drawbridge close on his head.

‘D’oh!’ began life in early Simpsons scripts as simply ‘(annoyed grunt)’, but this soon developed into a specific and idiosyncratic sound. In 2001, it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary with specific reference to The Simpsons.

2. Meh

Homer’s gift for popularising words seems to run in his family, as Bart and Lisa are primarily responsible for this one.

‘Meh!’ is another short, concise summary of the way a lot of young people are viewed today. Kids of the ’90s and onwards are often seen as being apathetic and hard to please. ‘Meh’ is an interjection that expresses an indifferent and non-committal disposition.

Lisa even spells the word out to her father in the episode ‘Hungry, Hungry Homer’ when he suggests a family trip to Blockoland.

3. Diddly

Homer is, of course, frequently outdone by his clean-living and well-to-do neighbour Ned Flanders, who also has a word instantly associated with him.

Flanders’ immensely irritating nonsense talk is epitomised by his use of the term ‘diddly’. It’s sometimes when he’s getting frustrated, as he’s never going to use an oath. Often though, it serves no purpose at all other than to draw out his cheerful comments even further.

I think it’s the characters, and their peculiar yet likeable quirks, that are the key to The Simpsons’ popularity and longevity. The storylines are often fairly silly, but you know that when Homer and even many of the minor characters are around, funny and memorable things are going to happen.

John is every inch the wordsmith and loves a game of Scrabble above all else. With experience writing for newspapers, John’s time at university was spent studying Creative Writing – something which comes across in his love of the pun.

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