At Least I Know I'm Free
Like, Totally Whites v. Italians

Soon We'll Like Totally be in Charge of this Country -- How Kewl is That?!

the woman of my dreams

Overheard on the banks of the Charles River just south of the Harvard Campus:

"So, like, then Amber and Wei-lin called him up and he was all like 'dude, I totally do not want to go to that party in Dunster, 'cause, like, Deena's gonna be there and that is like, totally no-go' and then I was all like 'That is sooooo juvenile. Just a week ago you were all like totally into her' and then he was all like 'nuh-uh'! and I was like, 'totally you were'...."

These are shiny, chipper, well-pedicured Harvard students from America's most prosperous suburbs, yet they sound like the American answer to Cindy aus Marzahn (g).

I am working on a device that uses advanced voice-recognition technology to deliver a powerful electric shock to the genitals whenever the wearer uses the word 'like' or totally'. It will also have a remote-control function allowing a nearby Grammatiksturmbannfuehrer (me) to deliver an extra shock on an ad hoc basis for general inane, substanceless blathering.

One day I'll win the Nobel for my efforts.

UPDATE: On reflection, I see that this I inadvertently insulted Cindy aus Marzahn, who -- in addition to her many other signal qualities -- routinely uses actual verbs and nouns to build her sentences. Sorry, Cindy!


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M. Möhling

> clumsy linguistic puppies

Yes, cohu, linguistic suicide seemingly is not only painless, it's joyous, as is most regression. Why would an eternal adolescent moron want to "make strong statements" anyway? Doesn't befit a contemporary young man's "feminine traits," does it? Nome sayin'? Like, if you can't express yourself coherently, "wag your tail" and look for "reassurance." If you lost your tail and related accoutrements already, like our young friends, no sweat, just look "cute."

Cohu, dear, really: when you dream, and you will do occasionally, is it about Peter Pan with half a brain and even less playthings?

> And being "nice" or endearing is a typical
> feminine trait in our society.

> I meant that maybe, unconsciously, this way of talking is
> associated with typical female gender stereotypes
> (submissiveness, vapidity, chattiness)

So what's a typical trait becomes a gender stereotype when the need arises, say, on occasion of the next post? At least that's not cute but impressively slick. Hooray for "linguistic adaptability."

> If they can switch, though - and if they got into
> Harvard I assume they can! -, that makes it a laudable
> skill

Two ivy blossoms wagging their tail to each other, linguistically, though they could deal with reported speech like any other grown ups? Really, in all likelihood they are just studying sciences as soft as their noodle boxes' content. Like, say, gender, area, or post colonial, um, studies. Hey, La Raza Studies come to mind. Or else, the feminist critique of those pesky natural sciences, who just wouldn't give the results cute puppies will wag their tail to.

Marian Wirth


thanks for giving me a hint how to torture you most efficiently (just in case I need it one day): a whole 30+ minutes Slate podcast with Hanna Rosin! Yay, can't wait to do that to you. One fine day.


Anonymous, I lived in England for 9 months and I usually read English stuff (on the web as well as in RL). My spoken English is not that great, certainly nowhere near "native". But as they say, "On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a German."


Interesting sidelight on the subject of this thread, courtesy of America's most prominent Powerfrau:


Out of curiosity: where did you learn to write English so well, Cohu? Bilingual upbringing, long stays in English-speaking countries, or linguistic genius?

In your written English, you are a native speaker, if "native speaker" means someone as proficient as a natural-born inhabitant of an English-speaking country.

Mother tongue German, native speaker of English.

"It's like having not one, but 'two' brains."


I didn't say or assume the speaker was female, I said it's a "female" way of talking (my quotation marks giving away that I don't think it's a necessarily/essentially/biologically female trait, but tied to female gender roles or stereotypes). I think I can stand by that assumption. It's called valley girl talk, no?
Correspondingly, "nome sane" seems to be a "black" way of talking - not because only blacks, or all blacks, necessarily use it, but because it's a trait tied to racial stereotypes.
And for sexism (or racism) to be at work, it's of course not necessary that you're talking about a female speaker. I meant that maybe, unconsciously, this way of talking is associated with typical female gender stereotypes(submissiveness, vapidity, chattiness), and thereby automatically assumed to be inferior, even if it objectively isn't, as the linguistic analysis shows [loved the Pullum link btw]. That aspect is certainly not the main reason why people hate this way of talking (the main reason being that old people will always love to tell young people to GET OFF THEIR LAWN!!!!1), but I still think it might play a role.

But yeah, I understand what annoys you. I think it gets problematic when you have the impression they wouldn't be able to switch it off even if they tried to. That's just pathetic.
If they can switch, though - and if they got into Harvard I assume they can! -, that makes it a laudable skill. I love linguistic adaptability, e.g. when people are able to speak heavy dialect *and* Hochdeutsch/Queen's English, and are able to completely switch between the two in the middle of a sentence. It's like having not one, but *two* brains.


"Who said the speaker of the quotation in the original post was a female?"

Dude, you are, like, so right.


Thanks for the comments. As usual, they're outshining the post. 2 quick things:

1. As for the possible sexism: who said the speaker of the quotation in the original post was a female? Trust me, you'll find many young males speaking like that.

2. Point taken about the epistemic hedging. The problem is not that these people are using epistemic hedging -- we all do that from time to time. The problem is that they are using he same hedging phrases constantly. There are at least 3-4 of them in every single sentence. If you don't trust me, I'll be happy to switch on my cellphone and make a voice memo.

I doubt that a century ago, people were wandering around saying "If you will, I was, if you will, going to go to the party, but, if you will, then I realized that Alexander was if you will probably going to be there and I thought if you will that is if you will totally not my scene..."

When the epistemic hedging begins to obliterate most of the actual meaning-carrying components of the sentence, we have a problem.


My favorite rebuttal of this particular language peeve is here:

"Why are the old fogeys and usage whiners of the world so upset about the epistemic-hedging use of like, as in She's, like, so cool? The old fogeys use equivalent devices themselves, all the time. An extremely common one is "if you will". [..]

"Like functions in younger speakers' English as something perfectly ordinary: a way to signal hedging about vocabulary choice -- a momentary uncertainty about whether the adjacent expression is exactly the right form of words or not. If the English language didn't implode when if you will took on this kind of role among the baby boomers, it will survive having like take on an extremely similar role for their kids. The people who grouse about like are myopic old whiners who haven't looked at their own, like, linguistic foibles, if you will."


Decidedly female = Incoherent and incosequential
Um, yes, being decidedly female myself, I'd say this equation is wrong altogether...but thanks for asking!

To clarify my point, I'd say that like-speak is a very "nice" way of talking. The speaker goes out of his/her way to make the listener comfortable by not making strong statements and by openly laying out all the implications/emotional background/in-jokes etc. And being "nice" or endearing is a typical feminine trait in our society. Like-speak might be annoying, but I think it's used with good intentions.
The same seems to be true for the "nome sane"-thing, which is just so anti-aggressive. The speaker is constantly requesting reassurance from the listener ("Do you understand? Are you following me? Are we in the same boat?"). It reminds me of a cute young puppy who can't walk ten steps away from you without looking back at you and wagging its tail.
Seriously, think of those people as clumsy linguistic puppies. Their antics should make us smile rather than instill revenge phantasies about "powerful electric shocks to their genitals"!

Junger Gott

@ cohu:

Just out of general interest: Would you think the following equation to be wrong altogether?

Decidedly female = Incoherent and incosequential


It may be more fitting, Cohu, to say that you are a non-native speaker who has learned how to speak like a native speaker. Your written English, in any case, is better than that of not a few "native" speakers, IMHO.

"Misogyny"--hmm. At first I was doubtful, but you might have a point, and it is an interesting point.


i'd be interested in whether this "like" talk (is that what you call valley girl speak?) also bears the same class connotation as andrew's example with cindy aus marzahn. to me, who doesn't know any of these specimen personally, it seems that it might be about class – but the other way round: that it is rich girls who talk like that (thus Harvard). and yes, I think cohu is right, it might not only be about class but about gender as well. now only race is missing to open an extended discussion about identity politics...


Christopher Hitchens doesn't, like, like "like", either, but I found this reply to his rant quite insightful:
"What Hitchens misses is the way these verb modifiers and suprasegmental forms have become fully integrated into contemporary English syntax. They're not wrong or ungrammatical. In fact, they extend the grammatical precision of English (especially with respect to a) reported speech and b) turn-taking cues) in interesting ways.
I can [be all like] (shakes body in disgust) even as I [go] ("no really, it's OK if you don't wash your hands"), and you can "go" ("whatever" [shrug, raised intonation]) while you're [like] ("ohmygawwwd, you're such a dweeb"). What you're "like" is how you actually feel and what you wish you could say, while "go" is what you actually say. This is a useful distinction to reduce to a simple choice between one syllable verbs of speaking that can co-occur in a description of the same communicative event."
(user fourcheesemac on MetaFilter)

As a non-native speaker, I think "like"-speak is colorful, lively, engaging. Obviously I wouldn't use it myself, but I don't understand why people hate it that much. Misogyny might also play a role in that; it's a decidedly "female" way of talking, or at least used to be.

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