Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What "smh" REALLY Means (information & examples) Part I

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series on the acronym "smh". Part I provides information and comments about a few examples of "smh".
Click for Part II of this series. Part II provides a portion of the information in that post as well as additional examples of the use of "smh".

The content of this post is presented for cultural and etymological purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to Whoissugar, the vlogger who is featured in one video that is showcased below.

UPDATE: October 7, 2014
Here are links to two other pancocojams post that mention "shakin my head" (smh):

"Smh" is an acronym for "shaking my head". At least to date, "smh" appears to be limited to written communication on the internet (such as blogging, posting on social media sites, and tweeting) and telephone text messaging.

People usually write about something and then add the acronym "smh" at the end of that sentence. For instance, a person might write "Did you see that movie? The reviews said it told the true story about relationships between men and women. smh. Or, less often, "smh" is found at the beginning of a sentence or at the beginning of a short-hand internet/text message statement. For instance, "smh @"XYZ" movie.

Most of the time when people write "smh", they're communicating that they are figuratively shaking their head in reaction to the words and/or actions of another person. When "smh" is written, it expresses that the person feels or felt one or more of the following: disbelief about or negative judgment of what a person has said or done, for example the belief that the person is ignorant, or foolish, or a liar, or racist. "Smh" is also used to express exasperation, disdain, disgust, and/or anger because of those previously listed reasons or for other reasons.

In that regard, it appears to me that "smh" has the same or similar meanings as "kiss teeth" ("suck teeth") does among Black people in the Caribbean and in Africa. I think that "kiss teeth", "suck teeth" have and "smh" (usually) has an element of heightened impatience with the person whose comments or actions caused that person to make that gesture or caused the writer to add "smh" at the end of her or his comments (or at the beginning of those comments). But I think that there may also be an element of impudence in "kiss teeth"/"suck teeth" that I don't think is present in "smh".

I also believe that the reasons for writing "smh" are quite similar to the reasons someone would do a "side eye" or "eye roll". In addition, writing "smh" might also sometimes be motivated by the same reasons that people lightly smack their forehead with their hand (do a "face palm"), although it seems to me that a face palm is usually done because the person is exasperated with his or her foolish, stupid non-serious and non-offensive actions or those types of actions or words that someone else has done or said. Furthermore, I think that the face palm gesture is one that is most often done by non-Black Americans, and I think mostly Black females- write "eyeroll" or write "side eye" at the end of a sentence the same way and for the same reasons that people- I think at least early on, mostly African American people- wrote "smh". [I'll write more shortly about the racial aspects of "smh" and to a lesser degree about the racial aspect of "face palm"].

But in contrast to those other gestures, I think that probably few people who write "smh" take the time and use their energy to actually shake their head. Instead, it's my sense that writing "smh" is a way of conveying the action of shaking one's head (and saying "un un un" along with that gesture).

I listed above what I believe are main reasons why people write "smh" online or in text messages. [I confess I've not used that acronym myself.] However, a person might also write "smh" as a form of wry, self-deprecating sense of humor to note something that she or he realizes about herself or himself or about people (and animals or things) who or that they associate with. Most of the examples from whoissugar's two featured videos in this pancocojams series demonstrate that type of usage of "smh".

I believe that "smh" is used (or at least "early on" was used) more often by African Americans than by non-African Americans, including other Black people. Unlike "side eye", "eye roll", "kiss teeth", and "suck teeth", "smh" isn't an old-school (traditional) African Diaspora or African cultural term. Nor does it appear to be an old school, traditional non-Black term.

I don't know when or where "smh" was first used. However, 2009 is the earliest online mention of this acronym that I've found: [hereafter given as Yahoo answers:smh]

That Yahoo query was posted anonymously. Here's that question

"is smh a black internet slang?

i have no idea what it means, but i often see it in message boards and comment areas. the posters are always black people. can someone clue me in?”
Notice the use of the term "message boards". The use of the term "message boards" instead of "blogs" provides some clue about when this "asker" saw "smh" used. Other blog posts that i've read in which commenters associated the acronym "smh" with Black people*, such as the 2010 blog thread on . Here's the initial post on that bodybuilding thread:
"10-22-2010, 12:22 PM#1
Location: Boca Raton, Florida, United States…
Why do lots of black people say "SMH"?
Yes I know what it means - "shake my head"
But it seems as if a large majority of black people say "SMH" on facebook, through text, etc.
(no racist)"
I interprete "no racist" to mean that the blogger wants to assure people that he didn't intend his question or comments to be racist.)

Although Facebook began in 2004, I wonder what the research indicates about when a significant number of Facebook users -whatever that percentage would be- were African American. Beecause of the "digital divide", I wouldn't be surprised if that didn't happen until 2009.

Returning to that Yahoo answers:smh query page, there are six responses to that question "Is smh a Black internet acronym?" Each of those answers was published in 2009. Three of the commenters either self-idenfied as Black or their accompanying photograph was of a person who people would usually identify as Black. One of those three commenters indicated that she or he knew about the acronym "smh", but denied that it was or should be associated with Black people.* Here's that comment:
"msknowitall answered 5 years ago [2009]
"I'm black.. and I have no idea what it means..
Get over it..
Its just an internet slang..
That hasn't caught on yet.."
Notice that this commenter writes in 2009 that this internet slang "hadn't caught on yet".

The comment that the person who posted the query ranked as the "Best Answer" was from Christy:
"It means
"shakin my head"
there you're clued in
Girl: What are you doin?
Boy: Smokin Crack..
Girl: Smh you're a loser
Other blog threads also associate the acronym "smh" with Black people and it by the number of racist comments on most of those blogs that many if not all of their commenters are non-Black. Most of those blogs [including the bodybuilding:smh but not the Yahoo answers:smh blog also include profanity and sexually explicit responses.

Speaking of that 2010 bodybuilder:smh thread, one commenter on that thread Bannister11
…Location: New Jersey, United States wrote that
"I thought it was a message board thing but I noticed my black friends who don't frequent forums use it too."
I wonder if that blogger meant telephone texting when he said that his black friends who don't blog use the acronym "smh". Perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe Black people (and other peeople?) use "smh" elsewhere besides the internet and telephone texting. I'd love to know more about this.
*Note: The referent "Black" wasn't defined in that website or in other blog threads in which commenteers noted that "smh" was associated with Black people or commenters asked whether "smh" was mostly or entirely associated with Black people. In spite of the fact that a lot of Black people aren't African Americans, given the prepondance of Americans on the English speaking internet, and the fact that at least on some website (but not the Yahoo:smh site) a number of commenters indicated that they were from the USA, it's reasonable to assume that people meant "African American" when they wrote "Black".)

"smh" may mean other things that aren't related to a person's comments about or reaction to something that was said or done, such as the "Sydney Morning Herald" (newspaper). Here are two entries from the internet acronym website:

Meaning: shaking my head

Type: Acronym

Rank: ★ ★ ★ Common

Usage: Online Only (chat, messaging, e-mail)

Expresses disapproval, disagreement, or speechlessness; used when something is so bad that you just shake your head; can also mean, "I disagree," "I can't believe it," or "Not again..."

Updated: December 19, 2012
Meaning: Smash my head

Type: Acronym

Rank: ★ ★ ☆ Average

Usage: Online Only (chat, messaging, e-mail)

SMH can also be used to say you are smashing your forehead on your hand. It is similar to saying, "D'oh!" after doing something dumb.*
I think that "smashing your forehead" is the same thing as "face palm", but I'm not sure about that. (One commenter on the bodybuilding:smh website wrote that "smh" is black people's way of saying "face palm").

Neeither that Internet acronym website nor any other such website that I visited on September 30, 2014] made any mention about "smh" being mostly or entirely associated early on or presently with any specific racial population.


56-whoissugar's side-eye Saturday Volume 2...3 days early

Uploaded by whoissugar on Mar 8, 2011
Her's a comment that includes "smh" from the video itself:
A male co worker called me "afrocentric," "neo soul," and "black panther" all BECAUSE I AM NATURAL!! SMH He gets the side eye every time I see him..
Here are two comments from that video along with whoissugar's responses to those comments:

Tissa Chelle, march 8, 2011
"you crack me up...I can 't stand it when I dont have a video to watch from you...but twitter

whoissugar, Mar 8, 2011 in reply to Tissa Chelle
"@PureRHOty AWE! Honey, I'm still trying to get the hang of twitter. Apart of me still doesn't get it. smh.
“Apart” = a part
Note that whoissugar used smh in her self –deprecating remark about not "getting" (knowing how to use) twitter.
This comment written in 2011 lends further credence to the view that ‘‘smh” is a relatively newly coined acronym.

Myeka324Mar 8, 2011•LINKED COMMENT
"You are so funny Sug! That's funny what your cat did with the rumba....lawd have mercy! And the iron on the "hell" setting? Lol to that as well...appreciate you too girl and hugs right back at ya! :o) this vid is too much"

whoissugar, Mar 8, 2011 in reply to Myeka324
"@Myeka324 Chile, I'm mad how he didn't smell my shirt burning. SMH!"
Notice how this example of "smh" is also written in good humor, and not in anger, disbelief, disdain, or disgust, as a number of other examples of smh are written.

Many of the comments that will be featured in Part II of this series demonstrate those types of emotions. That post will be published ASAP.

RELATED LINK "Putting On The Black: Side Eye"

** "What Kiss Teeth (Suck Teeth) Mean"

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Found a 25 July 2008 variation, 'shaking ma haid', on a site dedicated to 'old hand tools aficionados'(yes, really). Somebody called Bill Taggart is making a comment about an allegedly antique hand tool someone has put up for sale. He clearly thinks it's not worth the money:- 'Chuckling and shaking ma haid ruefully'. Does the spelling indicate Mr Taggart is imitating AAVE pronunciation? (At '' , message no.181622)

    1. Hello, slam2011.

      Thanks for pointing out that example of "shaking my head'. I'm not sure if that example that you cited is African American Vernacular English as it might also be an attempt to mimic or to represent in writing "Southern American English' or some other form of English.

      However, your comment motivated me to do some more research about "smh". I intend to publish two more post about "shaking my head' in the very near future. I'll add those links to this post when I've published them.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thanks for your comment, David Paul.

      The hyperlink that is included in your comment is the August 23, 2016 post "What Does SMH Mean" which has the clever subtitle "Shaking My Head" at this abbreviation".

  3. In this article very easily explain what does SMH mean. So I have to say that for the last few of hours i have been hooked by the impressive articles on this website. Keep up the wonderful work.

    1. Thanks for your compliment, kattwinson john.

      Here's a hyperlink to the article which (I agree) very easily explains the acronym "SMH".

  4. This is my first time i visit here and I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially it's discussion, thank you. things to talk about with a girl