Passed on by Gary Robert Kelly on Facebook this morning:

Bad Taxidermy Photos Are The Potato Jesus Painting Of The Animal World (by Josh Kurp, 11/14/12) [note the snowclone X is the Y of Z (here)]

Disfigured alive animals, not so funny. Disfigured dead animals, hi-larious. Now before calling me a serial killer (that’s only half true), know that I’m referring to animals that have been taxidermied, specifically animals that have been taxidermied terribly …

Thanks to a tip from Bobby Big Wheel, we were led on a path filled with cross-eyed cats, derpy-looking dogs, and whatever the hell happened to the poor guy you see above.

(In defense of the polar bear: his teeth are perfect. Reference here to Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”: I saw a werewolf drinkin’ a pina colada at Trader Vic’s / And his hair was perfect.)

It’s derpy.

This is a case in which Urban Dictionary is genuinely useful (up to a point). The UD definitions cluster pretty closely in their senses, and several point to a vector of spread, the Little Pony Derpy Hooves:

Clumsy or uncoordinated; prone to cause accidents likely due to some, often humourous, mental lapse. Ugh, I feel so derpy today. I just filled the coffee maker with pencil shavings and tried to write something down with a coffee bean. (Count Hieronymus Schlick 3/21/12)

accident prone; perhaps so much so that it makes one look foolish. I’ve been feeling pretty derpy today. Everything I touch seems to fall apart, and I cannot seem to do anything right. (SiriusLG 1/20/10)

Not “all there in the head”; possibly lacking intelligence or common sense. The wall-eyed background character in “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”, Derpy Hooves, is named after this. Hey, look at that guy sticking his aluminum foil-wrapped dick into an electrical outlet. That’s derpy if I’ve ever seen it. (Satoshiji 12/31/11)

 To be inefficient, slow, unable, inexperienced, not working correctly, stupid, naive, etc. A word that usually takes the place of “retarded.” Can be pertaining to a person or a thing. I tried to send my essay in via email last night, but my computer was being derpy. (Derpyhoovs 7/27/11)

Derpy Hooves:

There’s a Derpycats site (this is, after all, Facebook):

Derpycats is a celebration of really silly looking cats. We post only the derpiest cats that the internet has to provide! Nothing makes us more happy than getting to see and share your derpy cats, so please submit!

And many derpy dog sites as well.

Derpy takes us into the world of disparagements — slurs (mostly well short of taboo status) expressing negative social judgments on any number of dimensions on which people can stand out from “normals”, framing them as:

clumsy, awkward (physically or socially); socially isolated; inclined to failure; ignorant, stupid; physically disabled, defective; crazy; dirty; funny-looking; boring; immoral; sexually exceptional (promiscuous, homosexual, impotent, etc.); physically exceptional (notably fat, thin, tall, short, etc.); foreign, outsider; engaged in socially devalued occupations; etc.

Some of these characteristics are perceptible, but all have a social dimension, and in languages with inventories of ideophones (items evoking sensory images vividly, often set off syntactically from ordinary vocabulary rather than fully integrated into sentences, and often using phonetic distinctions not otherwise phonemic in the language in question), many of these would be conveyed through ideophones.

Otherwise, the vocabulary of disparagement, even if syntactically integrated and phonologically unremarkable, tends to be highly variable across individuals, social groups, and occasions, and over time. Disparagements sometimes are used for a time as very specific slurs (gay and fag(got) ‘homosexual’, dumb, dummy, lame, retard(ed)) and then are generalized to all-purpose insults, while others are used for a time as very general insults (odd, queer ‘peculiar’) and then are specialized to narrower uses. Some disparagements simply pass out of use: drip and square are pretty much antiques. Many disparagements — geek, freak, nerd — are very hard to pin down semantically. A few disparagements are associated with particular exemplars in popular culture (Urkel, Mortimer Snerd, nebbishy characters played by Arnold Stang), though these associations are easily broken over time. Many disparagements have unclear etymologies, sometimes (as I’ve suggested for nerd; see Ben Zimmer’s discussion here) because they have no unique source, but represent a confluence of contributions from several sources.

I frankly have no clue as to the source of derpy, and it’s only too easy to speculate about possible contributors (wimp(y), ditz(y), dummy, twerp, doofus, goofy, and no doubt others). What does seem relatively firm, however, is the role of Derpy Hooves in spreading the usage (apparently pretty rapidly, leading to the current derpy cats and dogs situation, and on to derpy used of human beings and actions).

14 Responses to “derpy”

  1. bratschegirl Says:

    A Mondegreen personified! It’s Gladly, the cross-eyed bear!

  2. Ben Zimmer Says:

    See also the entry for (herp) derp in the Winter 2011 installment of “Among the New Words” in American Speech (Internet meme edition). (We neglected to include derpy.)

  3. John Dorrance Says:

    I suspect ‘Derp’ can be traced to South Park; there was an episode several years ago where… Mr. Garrison, maybe? One of their teachers, anyway… went away, and his replacement was Mr. Derp, a very silly man who did silly things like hitting himself in the head with a hammer, saying ‘derp!’, and falling down. The kids thought he was lame beyond belief. The term has imprinted so strongly on me that I always say ‘derp!’ when making a mistake, when I used to use Homer Simpson’s ‘d’oh!’ exclusively.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      South Park’s Mr. Durp is in Ben’s AmSp entry. Nice to have your personal connection to it, though.

    • Alex Says:

      “Derp” predates the Mr. Derp episode within the Parker/Stone oevre with an appearance in the film “Basketball”, where “derp” was a spontaneous exclamation made by one character immediately after being caught doing something stupid. I suspect it was derived from “durr” and “doy” and similar nonsense syllables attributed to people who are mentally handicapped to the point of being non-verbal: the phrases “hurr durr” and “herp derp” are both used to evoke this. Search YouTube for a video called “Hurr Durr Dog” for an example, and if you search for “herp derp”, there are plenty of videos showing people with digitally distorted facial features that are presumably meant to mimic people with chromosomal abnormalities.

      If this hypothesis is true, then calling someone “derpy” is similar in meaning to the older slur “retarded”.

  4. Amy Dahlstrom Says:

    Yes, great entry by Ben! My 12 year old son says derp all the time; derpy less often, but I’ve also heard derp as a verb (“he was derping”). But in his usage it’s usually interchangeable with “fail!” as a self-directed or other-directed comment. E.g. winding up to take a slapshot but completely missing the puck. “Derp.” My husband and I have been coining new forms to expand his repetoire: derpitude, derpage, etc.

    • Peter Wikström Says:

      Derptastic! He’ll wind up with a vocabulary that can’t be derpleted, which is either wonderpful or disderping, derpending on your perspective.

      If I have anything constructive to add to this thread it is only that to me as a 26-year-old with extensive online language experience, ‘derp’ and all its lexical or semi-lexicalized relatives seem very well-established in informal online discourse. Especially in the contexts of meme culture and video game culture.

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        Once you get into communities of practice (like the meme and video game cultures you mention), you find vocabulary that everyone pretty much takes for granted, without realizing what things might be like outside these worlds. (That’s not a criticism; that’s just life.) Meanwhile, other people can go happily along with no knowledge of these special social worlds — until they come across them and are, at least initially, baffled.

  5. Geoffrey Nathan Says:

    Agreed about the ‘communities of practice’. In several political blogs that I follow (Reason Hit and Run, for example) ‘derp’ is used to comment on what the commenter considers to be a particularly stupid/pointless/totally wrongheaded posting. Sometimes combined with ‘herp’: herp derp’. I just automatically assumed that ‘derpy’ was just a derived adjective, but of course never did the requisite research…

  6. Jared Thacker Says:

    Hey, I wrote that definition on UrbanDictionary that points towards Derpy Hooves. Glad someone got some actual use out of it!

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