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What Does "SMH" Mean?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The acronym “SMH” literally translates as “shaking my head” and is typically used as a way to express disbelief or disappointment as a reaction to someone else. This acronym is usually used for texting or on the Internet, such as on forums or message boards, and is commonly used as a brief response to someone else’s message or actions. While the act of shaking one’s head from side to side can often be seen as demonstrating disapproval or signaling a negative response, in this usage it is meant as more of an illustration of disbelief. People typically use “SMH” to demonstrate that they have no other reaction to what someone has done than to simply shake their head in astonishment.

“SMH” demonstrates that someone is unable or unwilling to express in words the exact nature of his or her reaction to someone else’s words or actions. For example, a person might post “SMH” to respond to a video that someone else posts of people doing something extremely foolish, dangerous, or unwise. In this sense, it is meant to express disbelief at what was done and a lack of words to describe the poor decisions of those involved.

The use of the acronym “SMH” is typically meant as a somewhat derogatory response, as the person who uses it chooses a short response rather than typing out something longer. While someone could type out a long response to expand upon the poor decisions or foolishness of someone else, such a short response also typically indicates contempt toward the target of the response. This is similar to the use of the term “facepalm” to describe the process of placing one’s face within the palm of one’s hand as an expression of disbelief over someone else’s actions. Much like “SMH,” this is also typically used in a derisive and insulting way.

Both “SMH” and “facepalm” can also be expressed visually, rather than merely as a text message. Someone might post a response to a video, image, or message that consists of a short animated image of someone shaking his or her head back and forth as an expression of disbelief or shock. A still image from a well-known video of such head shaking may work just as well. Much like “SMH,” an image of someone physically enacting a “facepalm” can also be substituted for a textual message.

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Discussion Comments
By RoyalSpyder — On Jul 09, 2014

The funny thing about a lot of acronyms and phrases is that once you learn them, not only do they become a natural part of your language, but even more so, saying the acronym itself (especially when online) makes a lot more sense that saying the full phrase.

For example, if someone online found a joke to be very funny, the reason why LOL makes so much sense, is because it's an abbreviation of what you're trying to say, and it really fits the language that we see so often on the internet. Besides, if you were on an online message board, you wouldn't actually say "laugh out loud", now would you?

By Euroxati — On Jul 09, 2014

In my opinion, I feel like acronyms such as SMH are one of those obscure phrases that should only be used if people already know what it means. Unlike some of the other phrases such as "LOL", SMH is is bit more unusual, if that makes sense. For example, the first time I heard of the acronym was when I was on an online message board. I didn't understand what it meant at all, so I had to look it up.

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