Where does SMH come from?
As with a lot of internet slang, the exact origins of SMH are unclear, but this initialism emerges by the 2000s as way of marking tone in text messages and online. As its full form makes clear, SMH calls up shaking one's head (left to right), a common nonverbal way to say no or express frustration.
SMH was first entered on Urban Dictionary in 2004 and spread on Twitter by 2007. The slang may have been an innovation of black internet users, as early and notable uses are prevalent among such speech communities.
During the 2010s, publications like Vice and Bustle dedicated articles deciphering SMH for readers, evidence of its rise in popular use. A now defunct website, SMHMeansWhat, was even launched in 2015 giving examples of SMH in text form and in GIFs of people shaking their heads.
Since then, SMH has become common enough for publications to use it, unexplained, in headlines. BET especially features SMH in articles commenting on disappointing cultural news or pitiable celebrity behavior. One January, 2018 article ran, for instance: “SMH: Jay-Z Left the Grammys Empty-Handed and the Internet is Rioting.”
Who uses SMH?
SMH is very frequently used in diverse forms of digital communication, especially in black internet communities. The abbreviation, however, is now widely familiar in internet culture—and common enough that some people will say SMH in their speech as they might LOL or OMG. SMH is also incorporated grammatically in text (e.g., I'm smh because of his antics).
The tone of SMH often implies an impatience with a perceived unnecessary stupidity of a person or process. SMH is often issued to preface what the user is disappointed or frustrated by (e.g., smh... My flight got cancelled and can't be rebooked). GIFs of people shaking their heads captioned with smh are popular on GIF keyboards, and can be sent via text message or attached to tweets as a reaction image. The hashtags "#smh" and "#smdh" are popular ways to tag exasperation on social media.
SMH is also intensified, most commonly as smdh (shaking my damn head) but also smfh (shaking my fucking head), and smmfh (shaking my motherfucking head).
Less often, SMH will stand for so much hate, showing or commenting on disdain, or scratching my head, used for puzzlement. The internet slang is not be confused with the common abbreviation of the Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald.
SMDH, really...We probably don't deserve what could be the coolest bus stop in the world.
Yi Shu Ng, Mashable, March, 2017
I love having to ask vendors stupid questions because the boss asks me to do so #smh
@VegasCubsFan, February, 2017
literally what artist has a fanbase loyal enough to buy music they can download for free im smdh we are all slaves of capitalism
@saltkath, March, 2018