Idioms, Cliches, and Slang

What is a 'neener'?



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Meaning of 'Neener'

Neener Neener is an expression that most Americans aged 40 or under are probably familiar with. Following is a typical example of usage:

I can see your point, but I still think you're full of it. Neener neener! :)

In text, especially online text, you'll sometimes see 'neener' written as :neener: or spelled (incorrectly, in my opinion) as neaner. Moreover, you will at times see instances of neener-neener, or strings of neener, neener, neener in your reading. The word is pronounced phonetically as NEE-nuhr.

Urban Dictionary contains entries for 'neener' as well as 'neener-neener.' (Actually there are many, many variants of 'neener' in Urban Dictionary; check 'em out at your leisure and amuse yourself for several minutes.) Here is a single blockquote containing some particularly distinct definitions:

  • An interjection typically used to taunt, ridicule, or boast.
  • Word of jest or teasing. Similar to saying "ha-ha" or sticking a tongue out at someone.
  • A childish taunt or jeer pronounced with a nasal sneer, for lack of a more intelligent retort to someone else's jeer or taunt, usually from a peer. Sometimes sung to the tune of "Ring-Around-the-Rosey" for really driving the point home.

Tracking down an etymology for 'neener neener' has proven to be an almost fruitless task. I defy you (in a kind and loving way, naturally) to undertake this work for yourself and to share your findings with the rest of us in the comments portion of this post. The best result I could find was in Jennifer Larson's archived weblog. Check it out:

  • Reader CarolAnn writes, "Jen�do you have any idea where the children's phrase.....'ne ner ne ner ne ner' came from? Thanks."
  • Wow, that is a tough one. I don't know any original sources for neener-neener or its sister nyah-nyah...but if I were to fabricate an explanation, I'd say it likely comes from Old English ne, which means "no" or "not."

Jennifer's explanation makes a great deal of sense to me. Frankly, I'm too tired at the moment to plunder and blunder through the OED and enumerate the etymological lineage of the noun no (sorry).

From willd2009:

This one's deep, culturally. Around 1985 -- I don't have the exact citation on me -- an anthropologist working in the South Pacific came upon it. In his further travels (Northern China, and somewhere in Peru) he heard it over and over in children's play. His opinion was that, since these children were not in contact with other children in other cultures, this childhood taunt was -- his theory, not mine -- precultural.

I have to laugh at the above answers.. First of all my Mother is in her 70's and this taunt was being used by children long before she ever used it herself. so it is not in any way limited to those under 40 and was most definitely not discovered by some anthropologist in 1985..........