What Does “SMH” Mean and How Do You Use It?

What Does “SMH” Mean and How Do You Use It?
A woman looks confused at her computer.

The initialism “SMH” has been around for a while, and you’ll often encounter it in chat rooms and on social media websites. But what does SMH mean? Who came up with it, and how do you use it?

“Shake My Head” or “Shaking My Head”

SMH is an internet initialism that stands for “shake my head” or “shaking my head.” It’s used to express disappointment or disbelief in the face of what’s perceived as glaringly obvious stupidity or extremely obliviousness.

As you might expect, it is used in any situation where you might actually shake your head in real life. If you overheard someone say, “I don’t use laundry detergent” at the grocery store, you would probably blink a few times and move your head around in shock and disgust. When the same thing happens online, the expression “SMH” can be used to communicate that “I had a full-body reaction to your sheer stupidity” without typing more than three letters.

This isn’t to say that SMH is always used by itself. People tend to accompany it with an opinion, like “SMH you’re bonkers” or “SMH people don’t know how to use a Speed Stick.”

All in all, SMH is a pretty straightforward initialism. But where did it come from, and how do you use it correctly?

(As a side note, some people think that SMH means “so much hate.” This is like the Bizzaro meaning of SMH. We’re not going to say that “so much hate” is incorrect, but it’s not the meaning that most people associate with SMH, so you should avoid using it for that purpose.)

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SMH was first added to the Urban Dictionary in 2004 with a meaning that’s identical to the initialism’s current meaning. Nobody knows where the phrase came from. Still, it was probably conceived around the same time as the phrase “facepalm,” a similar internet expression that was first uploaded to the Urban Dictionary the same month as SMH.

Like “facepalm,” it slowly made its way into the common vernacular. It found a home in memes and reaction GIFs and reached peak popularity during the early 2010s due to social media websites like Facebook and Tumblr.

According to Google Trends, this peak occurred during June of 2011, and it grows less and less popular every year. But hey, it’s way more popular than “facepalm,” which is something that we all should be happy about.

SMH’s decline is probably due to GIF tools like GIPHY and Gfycat, which are now integrated into social media sites, messengers, and your phone’s texting client. On its own, the phrase “SMH” can only convey so much, but a GIF (like the one above) can communicate complicated feelings of disgust and disappointment that exist beyond the scope of language.

How to Use SMH

You should use SMH anytime you might physically shake your head. There aren’t too many rules to the phrase; just know that it’s used to express disgust, disbelief, shock, or disappointment. You could even use it for a joke, just as you might teasingly shake your head for a laugh in real life.

There aren’t many grammatical rules to SMH either. Most people throw it at the beginning of a sentence (“smh ya’ll can’t tell apart a dog from a horse”), but you can throw it at the middle or the end of a sentence too. You could even use the word on its own, just as you might quietly shake your head in real life.

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Oh yeah, and you can use animated GIFs to communicate “SMH” without actually saying it. Just use a tool like GIPHY or Gyfcat to find an animation that you like and drop it into Twitter, a messenger, or your texting client.

If the internet causes your head to shake in a fit of confusion, then maybe it’s time to start learning about some common internet jargon, trends, and jokes. Why wouldn’t you want to learn about hot takes or phrases like TL;DR?

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Lucila is a freelance writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to study new things. She enjoys checking out the latest grammar books and writing about video games more than anything else. If she's not running through Colorado’s breathtaking landscape, she's indoors hidden away in her cozy game room trolling noobs and leveling up an RPG character. She is a Final Fantasy IX apologist (although she loves them all… except XV), coffee aficionado, and a bit of a health nut. Lucila graduated from Western Kentucky University with a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing.

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