The Meaning of Mean

The word “mean” can have three different meanings. The first is meaning itself. What is a thing’s significance? Why is it important? This is the meaning of the word meaning. For now we can ignore that definition. The second and third definitions of “mean” do not concern meaning, but rather, meanness.

In mathematics, the word mean is synonymous with average. You take all the numbers in a set, add them up, and divide by the number of numbers. This is how you determine the mean of the set. In this context, when something has meanness, it means it is remarkably average. A kid who scores a C on al of his exams possesses academic meanness. An average guy is also a mean guy, although he might not like being called that.

Yelling Bully

“I’m not mean. You’re mean!”

Most people associate meanness with cruelty, as this is probably the most common use of the word mean. When we describe someone as mean, we are usually saying he is not nice. Even cruel! Dictators are mean. Bullies are mean. Some people are full of this type of meanness, but every one of us has the capacity to be mean. It is really the exceptional person who is nice all the time.

So, meanness means averageness. When you call someone mean, you are calling them average. But meanness also means not-niceness. When you call someone mean, you are saying they are not nice. These definitions are really just the same thing. Average people are not particularly nice. And no matter how successful you are, if you are mean, then you are still only average.

Mean person


I wonder which meaning came first. Was it considered mean to call people normal or unexceptional? Did someone realize most people were mean? Either way, it doesn’t matter. The point is to demonstrate the meanings of meanness, to help stay away from either one. Be nice to people. Show them you are not mean, and that you are above the mean.

When you stay way from all types of meanness, your life will have more meaning.

Forrest Gump

“That’s all I have to say about that.”