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The "H" in IMHO is tearing the internet apart

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When it comes to the internet, seemingly innocuous topics are often the grounds for heated debates. Is the dress blue and black or gold and white? Is this voice saying "yanny" or saying "laurel"?

A writer at Buzzfeed recently asked readers to help settle a workplace debate over whether IMHO means "in my humble opinion" or "in my honest opinion."

Since this is the internet, where people will fight about literally anything, things quickly devolved into what will likely be a centuries-long blood feud.

Of the nearly 200,000 people who took part in Buzzfeed's poll, 57 percent voted that the "H" stands for honest. The Detroit Free Press conducted its own poll and got similar results.

So does that mean people in the "humble" camp are wrong? Not necessarily. 

The Oxford English Dictionary cites this 1984 Usenet post that’s oozing with nostalgia as the earliest known use of IMHO: "The Sony and Maxell tapes are, imho (in my honest opinion), almost indistinguishable in quality, and are the only kind I buy now."

However, early electronic language guides typically list "humble" first, with "honest" as a variant. In some entries, like this one from the Jargon File, "honest" isn't listed at all. This 1994 edition of PC Magazine includes a reference to an email usage book that also only lists "humble."

That said, remember that language changes over time. At one point, it seems as though "humble" was the more popular option. However, If the Buzzfeed poll is any indication, it’s very possible we may be witnessing a change in progress, where more people think the "H" stands for honest, regardless of earlier popularity.

Where do you stand on this one? Let us know below. And remember, if you bring this question up at the dinner table, we're not responsible for any relationships that are destroyed as a result.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story said that "humble" was used in a 1984 reference cited by the Oxford English Dictionary. The example the OED cites uses "honest," though subsequent early references listed here use "humble." The post has also been corrected to include 1994 as the edition of PC Magazine in which the usage glossary appeared.

 

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Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of Weekend Edition at Michigan Radio. She also co-hosts Michigan Radio’s weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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