Am I teh FAIL, or am I just getting old?

What the heck does ‘teh fail’ mean?

A technical writer, who I think is in her mid-20s, mentioning in passing that she was teh FAIL at something.

My immediate thought, of course, is that she made a typo, and meant to write “the fail.” But that didn’t make sense in context. So, I did what any right-thinking person would do, and googled the expression ‘teh fail.’

Results were inconclusive. Google returned 9,630 results, and my browsing of the first few made it clear that ‘teh FAIL’ was not a typo. Rather, it’s some sort of modern urban expression. But what does it mean?

What am I to make of statements like “Vista: The Wow is teh FAIL”? or “this chick + honestly = teh FAIL.” Clearly, it’s critical and negative.

After more research, I’ve concluded that ‘teh FAIL’ means, basically, sucks or is crap. The Wikipedia helped a bit. There is a page about ‘Teh,’ which confirmed that ‘teh’ has turned into Internet slang. It explains that ‘teh’ can be used as a modifier for unmodified adjectives. An example they give is ‘that is teh lame,’ which means ‘that is the lamest.’ Based on that, ‘I am teh fail,’ means ‘I am the biggest fail[ure].’

That sounds good, but why is ‘FAIL’ often written in all caps? I did what any editor would do: queried the copy desk.

One of our copy experts wrote back,

Boy, I’m seeing a lot of references to that online but none that adequately explains it. One seems to define it as “useless blabber.” but I’m not sure that’s it… It’s just one of those things that makes me feel like part of the “out generation.”

Another replied,

“Teh” is an Internet meme, it literally means “the” but it’s used to make fun of dumb people who make typos like “teh.”

Fail is another meme that’s gained a lot of traction recently. It’s being used as a noun here (as a substitute for “failure”) and it means something that went terribly and/or hilariously wrong (for example: New Coke was concentrated fail). Usually used in conjunction with “epic” for “epic fail.”

So whoever wrote you that is throwing together two memes. “Teh” is cliché right now and “fail” is on its way to it. At least that’s my reckoning.

Share your theories about ‘teh FAIL,’ and where it comes from.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick
3 replies
  1. Paul N. Leroux
    Paul N. Leroux says:

    Me, I still speak 50s-era Montreal English. As in:

    – Did you do your order? (Did you buy groceries?)

    – Did you close the light? (Did you turn off the light?)

    – Did you pass the mop? (Did you mop the floor?)

    – I feel punk (I feel like crap.)

    I’m fascinated by today’s idioms, but am definitely teh FAIL at using them.

  2. Guillaume Theoret
    Guillaume Theoret says:

    The “teh” meme has been adequately explained here but FAIL has a much bigger following because it’s much more interesting.

    I’m not sure where FAIL started exactly but I imagine it started in either the lolcats circle or World of Warcraft. It’s still very common in lolcat style photoshops.

    Either way, some of the original FAIL pics are hilarious (ex: ) and there’s a blog that posts lots of new FAIL pics:

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