“Totally like whatever, you know?”

Video by Ronnie Bruce.

This typographical visualization of poet Taylor Mali‘s performance of “Totally like whatever, you know?” just knocked me on my ass. Literally. I am sitting on the floor, heart beating very fast, fist in the air, shouting “YES, YES, YES!” because Mali has called my demographic out on one of our most persistent and obnoxious habits: a general lack of self-respect when it comes to the way we talk.

Generally speaking (hurr), American twenty-to-thirtysomethings are a flakey, indolent lot in regards to oral communication. The aptly named Generation Why is suffering an epidemic of infantile intonation, “then he was all/she was all” shortcuts, verbal tics of the “like”, “and um” and “you know” variety, and shamefully poor diction on the whole. We’re all starting to sound like Janice from the Muppets, only less classy.

(Found this snapshot in a random search. Wanted to obscure this gal’s face ’cause it’s all about the shirt. Photoshop blur tool did something… arty. Hopefully she won’t mind.)

I’m certainly not immune! And the more time I spend with peers who replace commas and pauses in oral communication with “like”s and “you know”s, the more prone I am to the same witless fucking verbiage. It’s horribly contagious. In the past, I’ve taken to wearing rubber bands and snapping them against my wrists to break myself of bad speaking habits. After a night out with particularly self-indulgent friends, I find myself listening to the old guard on NPR and the BBC for hours, just to cleanse my own impaired palate.

Bravo, Taylor Mali, for eloquently lamenting, as Roger Ebert puts it, “the decline of talking like you’re intelligent and sincerely care.”

By the way, who else is following Ebert‘s vibrant Twitter stream? This gem is only one of literally hundreds of incredible links I’ve followed from there in recent months. I doubt he’ll ever see this post, but seriously, Mr. Ebert, if you happen to read this, thank you so much. These days, you’re not just a top film critic… you’re one of the most important cultural curators on the web. Bravo to you, too. (Fer sure.)

55 Responses to ““Totally like whatever, you know?””

  1. MAF Says:

    I loved this poem by Taylor Mali. Everything he expressed is very true. I, also, follow Roger Ebert and find him to be very informative about lots of subjects.

  2. whelky Says:

    disfluencies are present in basically every spoken language, and i think are a normal part of speech. it’s weird and kinda classist to mistake prescriptive written grammar for spoken language or to think someone’s less intelligent or sincere because they don’t speak the queene’s english.

  3. Mer Says:

    Whelky, forgive me if I’ve caused offense (or am about to offend further) with my opinions, but how is it classist? I see where you’re coming from in regards to Ebert’s remark and my “witless verbiage” crack. But as far as discrimination on the basis of social class goes, I’m not following. “Like, you know, whatever, and um, he was all/she was all, totally”isms are pervasive in such a wide range of tax brackets! It seems like more of a generational shift to me than a class-related shift.

  4. whelky Says:

    oh, i’m not offended, and i agree in some ways. the video above just reminded me of racist/classist relatives of mine making fun of black folks for using “know what i’m sayin’?” as a sort o’ filler phrase. i think these particular words and phrases are just empty discourse markers and really don’t signify anything about the speaker except perhaps their class. i’m mostly just playing devil’s advocate, but i think that disfluencies are just a natural part of speech, part of cognition -people of all cultures have their own filler words they use to buy time while they formulate streams of thought- and the notion that the prescriptive grammar of written language should be indistinguishable from spoken language is a relatively recent invention of the ruling class. juss sayin’

  5. Lulu Says:

    If I may respectfully venture, Whelky, I think language, like math, has fantastic potential as an _equalizer_ between the classes. It costs nothing but care to speak well, and the return on the investment is significant: in a word, respect.
    The other devices one might employ to get an edge in the world–elegant clothes, a luxury car, a college degree–are all expensive. In every First World country one may theoretically acquire an adequate mastery of one’s language for free at public school, making it the single _least_ classist asset.

    It’s much truer now than it was nearly a hundred years ago when Shaw expounded the advantages of diction in Pygmalion.

    We all know that “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” but while we ought to strive to apply this to our own perceptions, it would be delusional to forget the importance of appearance and elocution when we present ourselves to the world. All the world’s a stage, and if one takes to the boards with a slovenly costume and mushmouthed line delivery, one does oneself a disservice, and should take full responsibility for it.

    A subject dear to my heart.

  6. Phoenix Marie Paris Says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, and most importantly, thank you!

    Coincidentally, what you have encapsulated so eloquently in this post is one of the more prevalent suppressed rants that linger in my brain endlessly, growling for release. This also happens to be all I can think about this week as I’ve been needlessly debating the vital importance of basic grammar and literary coherency with a magazine editor who seemed to confuse intelligent respect for a language (and a reader) with a threat to youthful, enthusiastic individualism. To live in a culture where the two could even be remotely confused is kind of maddening to me! And some junk…

    Also, I use Masterpiece Theatre and episodes of Simon Schama’s Power of Art series: gargle, rinse, repeat…leaves a colourful aftertaste!

  7. inachis_io Says:

    I would also like to note, that although I’m in agreement with the motive behind “Totally like whatever, you know?” (which is a very well-conceived illustration of the sometimes gnawingly irritating verbal hiccups in contemporary speech), I have to agree with whelky in that the use of the spoken word may vary considerably with use of the written word. An individual might very well choose to speak a certain dialect in everyday social interaction and in other situations be perfectly capable of using proper grammar and diction. I think that many people will adapt to the “norm” in different situations. I wouldn’t speak in the same manner to my Editor as I would to my casual acquaintance who works at the Subway. And, though I don’t consider it to be a commendable quality, several people I know appear to become impatient when I take long pauses to think in between speaking. In moments like that it feels more comfortable to throw in the occasional “Ummm…”

  8. Widnoon Says:

    This post is intrinsically classist and snobby. But if someone wants to prove themselves to be like a low class dolt I guess like that is up to them or whatever. I do it all the time. Much to the chagrin of classists and snobs.

  9. violet Says:

    Ugh. I know this is supposed to be “cute”, I mean, I know you don’t *actually* snap yourself with rubberbands every time you say ‘um like totally’ but if this is supposed to be a satire of a quasi-intellectual cultural anthropology rant, it’s not really working for me. Witless, unintelligent, and insincere…really? Your favorite writers all used expressive verbiage, aka the “likes” and “totallys” of their time. That’s why you like them.

  10. Lulu Says:

    Widnoon, please explain why it is “intrinsically” snobby and classist to appreciate correct language.

    Would I be less of a snob if I pointedly _dummied down_ my language for what you might call common folk? The implication there is that most people couldn’t speak well if they bothered, or understand if one spoke to them in such a fashion. I try not to assume the populace at large is an idiot, having heard on more than one occasion an anecdote about the consequences of assuming, which I did not find particularly flattering.

    What is the purpose of formal language?
    To show respect.
    Would you walk up to President Obama, HM Elizabeth II, or the Dalai Lama, throw your arm around their shoulder, and ask, “Hey Barry/ Liz/ Dally, how’s it dangling?” Probably not, and fear of repercussion by security personnel aside, probably in order to demonstrate respect.

    To cultivate a pattern of speaking correctly- -formally, properly, however you’d like to call it- – is, then, to show respect for those around you as a habit.

    I for one think this is a noble aspiration, quite the contrary of classist–it means I accord the same linguistic courtesy to the bus boy as I do to the Pope. There is no superfluity of courtesy in this world. At the very least, it is worth considering the old adage “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

  11. Whiskey Deer Wolf Says:

    Errr. I work with 3rd chance inner-city high school students and, I, myself attend a city college which leaves me feeling qualified to agree with Whelky’s accusations of a classist perspective being implemented here. On the other hand, while people of all classes may use “witless verbiage”, a complication does arise when quality education is not available to people in the lower class brackets. These folks are left with what the mass media provides them and these days, that’s slim pickings on the proper grammar front. Unfortunately with our current cultural equation this all too often closes the door of opportunity for changing one’s position in this culture. The kids I work with have little hope for a pleasurable future considering our current educational and media trends to be able to gather themselves up and speak our “proper” tongue, the very thing they need for better jobs and networking. Another depressing side effect is that with limited articulation skills these wonderful bright kids aren’t able to express themselves fully and are all too often left feeling misunderstood and frustrated. So, yes, while I do see the importance of being able to articulate oneself, I’m left knowing that our dominant culture reserves this right for those they deem to be worth listening to and that certainly isn’t the poor. A little more compassion and understanding (and political action) is necessary to truly accomplish your wishes for a world with better grammar. Please forgive any grammar mistakes which, I’m sure to have made.

  12. Fitz Clementine Says:

    I agree with previous commenters that there’s some racism and classism inherent in this sort of criticism. (And perhaps other -isms as well– what if someone has a speech impediment or a learning disability or is a non-native English speaker? Not all instances of inarticulateness can be chalked down to laziness or ignorance.) It’s also true that filler words are, and have always been, an important part of casual spoken language. Part of the reason for their existence, in fact, is to keep the flow of a conversation going. It can be difficult to tell, when talking, if someone is pausing because she’s finished her thought or to hunt for the word she wants to use next or as kind of a verbal comma or verbal semicolon or verbal ellipsis or what-have-you.

    That said, I think it’s important for those of us who *can* learn to use the kind of speech and language that’s considered “correct” or more “intelligent sounding” to do so, because others *do* judge us largely by the ways we use words to communicate (or not). It’s a useful skill. I don’t think learning to speak or write a certain way can actually make a person smarter or better, but it can make people who wouldn’t listen otherwise, listen.

  13. LarsVader Says:

    This is one of the many reasons why we Europeans are making fun of Americans in general.

  14. Arcko Says:

    I have to disagree with you guys. The expression of “like” or “totally” or “ya know” as filler statements should be chastised. Their presence as popular vernacular amongst our verbal culture is not simply slang or cute verbiage that is indicative of our time or even a shifting in vocabulary as a natural evolution of the English language. It is the unconscious development and fostering of a fragmented language that if left unchecked can leave one bordering on illiteracy. It may seem like one little hiccup here and there, but before you know it, BAM! The third world war.

    Love typographic rendering, Mer. My personal favorite has to be this exploration into the coolest scene in Pulp Fiction.

    Also, if you can wade past all the advertising, Esquire posted a beautiful article on Roger Ebert on their website. You would think the cancer would have destroyed him, but if anything, he’s been reborn.

  15. Ben Johnson Says:

    Whiskey Deer Wolf has it. There are two things at play here.

    On the one hand, the idea of “proper” speech always ends up reflecting the language patterns of society’s most successful and influential. To Inform/Inspire/Infect these folks all but requires that one be able to “speak their language,” as the saying goes.

    One the other hand, just because the grammar you grew up speaking isn’t codified in The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t mean it’s impossible to be eloquent in it. Dialects, creoles, pidgins are the languages of outsider visionaries.

    If one seeks to be an advocate for alternative cultures in the circles of money and influence, a fluency in both, and an understanding of when and how to use them becomes necessary. Speak formally, speak casually, just do not speak lazily.

  16. Michelle Says:

    Re: language and class, I think it’s worth thinking about why some things are considered “not classy”. I don’t think “like” and “you know” falls under this category, but some turns of phrase are considered…distasteful? specifically because they’re associated with people who are stereotypically unintelligent or “low class”. Like what Whelky’s relatives were saying, or people making fun of the way “hicks”/”rednecks” speak.

    Lulu: “In every First World country one may theoretically acquire an adequate mastery of one’s language for free at public school, making it the single _least_ classist asset.”

    I think you might be giving a bit too much credit to the public school system, at least here in America! I went to a not-particularly-poor small town school and I’m fairly certain the only reason I have a decent grasp on grammar/spelling is because I’ve always been a voracious reader. And of course, schools in areas with more money will -generally- have better teachers, and private schools tend to have better education as well – so classism is still very much tied in to the K-12 education.

    Either way, I don’t find any of the above examples particularly annoying unless they’re used so much that you can’t understand what the person is saying for the verbal clutter, so to speak. Sometimes when talking to someone who strikes me as particularly snobbish I throw them in more than usual just to annoy them ;) (Y’know?)

  17. Marc Says:

    I can’t help but judge people in some small way for lazy speech patterns any more than I can prevent myself from watching to slap people on my facebook friends list who use text speak even while using a full keyboard.

    I think much of that is because I’m cursed with a partially un-shiftable Yorkshire accent (probably on par with the various accents of the deep south of the USA in terms of cultural weight and stigma) and to hear people all over the country fall back on meaningless “Know what I mean, like?” fillers makes me wonder why I’m trying at all to keep my speech as neutral and easily understood as possible.

    It’s not a class thing. I just wish some people would make a little more effort.
    Know what I mean, like?

    …Or maybe it is a snobbish class thing.

  18. Jim Says:

    For fun:

    Perhaps there is something more significant happening here than a shift in popular vernacular.

    Conviction is always built upon epistemology.

    This change in language could stem from a shift in academia: the cultural turn… Contrast non-representational theory with something Darwin once described: the need, in science, to present coherent and contentious theses.

  19. Fitz Clementine Says:

    I agree with everything Michelle said, especially the bit about the American public school system. Holy Moses. My situation was unusual in some ways, I’ll grant, but growing up I often felt like my schools were actively attempting to *stifle* my intellectual growth.

    …Also, many of the walls were made of cardboard.

    Arcko, I would be really interested in reading about *why* you believe that the English language is degenerating. I’m not being facetious. I just wonder if you have any evidence beyond, say, the fact that the language recorded in books and movies from fifty years ago seems more formal or more erudite than the language you heard getting tossed between Joe and Jane Randomteenager on the street this afternoon. I would agree wholeheartedly with the statement that most people aren’t very articulate, but I would disagree with the idea that this has only become true in the past few decades.

  20. Annie Says:

    It’s a beautiful sentiment. Self-respect! Thank you!

  21. Arcko Says:

    Actually it was I being facetious in my post. I thought it was evident by my claim that the downfall of the English language would bring about World War III.

    Nevertheless, as with all jokes, there was a shred of a truth alluding to my ideology. The reasoning behind the idea that the English language has seen severe degeneration in the past few decades is not that this was the beginning of it’s fall. My idea centers itself around the prevalence of interactive mass media networks, such as MySpace and other mono-cultures like Facebook or even early networks such as Telnet BBS systems and the ease in which one can spread their ideas and their vernacular with one another.

    This raises the question though, if one can spread bad grammar in this manner then would good grammar not prove to be a counter effect? I think it would and should continue be used like a single sandbag attempts to stop a hurricane. The sheer amount butchered English out there I feel significantly outweighs the amount of proper articulation. Through this overwhelming tide, I feel it exposes and encourages viewers to participate in altering their speech and typing patterns to that of the gibbering masses. Do I have facts or a mountain of LexisNexis quoted research to back this up? I do not, but I will stand by the idea.

    The solution you ask? Low voltage stun guns attached to keyboards that penalize the user for typing things like “OMG WTF JON U R MY BFF!!1!”

  22. Jay Says:

    This is exactly why it’s time to start coding everything in Like, Python! http://www.staringispolite.com/likepython/

  23. Mer Says:

    Ack! Good morning!

    I deeply apologize if I have erred and come off sounding monstrously classist or racist. Holy shit, that was not my intention. Far, far from it. Please believe me. I can see why the Janice joke about “being classy” would cause grumpiness. My apologies for that as well. And please, please know my intention was NEVER to judge folks with actual diagnosed speech impediments. Gah.No.

    If you’re not already fed up with this topic, I’d love the chance to clarify a few things.

    When I, like, say “witless verbiage”, I’m like, y’know, NOT, uh, talking about localized dialects or, like, accents generally, like, related to, like, ethnic minorities, or like, or even, like, certain overused popular turns of phrase, y’know? I’m talking about, uhhhhhhhhh. Like, instances of, um, language as, like, filler? Y’know, like, nothing but excelsior? That get, like, so out of control, you know, that it’s like, hard to uhhhhhhh, like, understand a person, and like, actually communicate? Y’know, like, it gets, um, like totally pervasive? To the point that, like, meaning starts to get, uhhhhhhhh, lost in the, like, static? So, like, permeating of, um, a person’s, y’know, speech patterns that, like, the packing material ends up, like, bookending every, like, few words in, like, a person’s sentence?

    (Often my sentences, as I said, if I don’t actively rein it in.)

    “uh” “um”
    and the addiction of voicing statements as questions.


    Thick static, LOUD static that can become so pervasive, you have to strain to hear what someone else is actually saying, for all of the distraction. And again, that’s something I hear in the speech patterns of twenty and thirtysomethings from a very wide range of dialects, tax brackets, ethnic backgrounds, and schooling levels. It’s everywhere. I’ve heard it in Orange County, and Monterey, and Hartford, and Ft Lauderdale, and Austin, and Chicago, and Oklahoma. Paris Hilton and Karen O and that trust fund dude from the Strokes all pack their phrases in those same verbal peanuts as kids down at the mall, young adults working in libraries, even 34 year-old Yale architecture grad students.

    I see and concede your points that more compassion is called for. Perhaps I should start with a bit more empathy and patience with myself, since it’s something I struggle with terribly at times.

    Violet, I honestly DID go through the rubber band phase a few years ago. I don’t know if that’s cute or not (heh, apparently not) after breaking up with an incredibly inarticulate bohemian artsy fartsy boyfriend (incidentally of blueblooded Scot descent, from a very wealthy family, a child who went to private school, and a college graduate) who ended every single sentence as a question, regardless of whether it was a question or not, and literally could not say three words without adding a compulsive “like” or “you know” to them.

    I have a tendency to take on the inflections and verbal habits of those I spend the most time with, and his manner of speaking was highly contagious. It took me a solid month of wearing rubber bands and snapping them for every “like” and “y’know” and statement-as-question to stop sounding like him.

    So. Hey. Guys. I’m sorry I pissed people off with this one. I’ve been in a grumpy mood the past week or so, and I’m sure that it’s colored my presentation. Just keep in mind it was a post meant to berate my own poor speech patterns as much as anyone else’s, and that I regret making any statement that would cast me as some sort of snobby classist asshole. I’d like to hope I’m not any of those things. (Well, no, I’m definitely an asshole sometimes. But I’m relatively certain I’m not a snob, and very confident that I’m not one to judge others harshly or hatefully based on income, neighborhood, or the color of their skin.)

    Thank you for talking, and for being generally polite and patient with me. I appreciate the insight very much.

  24. Michelle Says:

    Mer, you didn’t offend me – and I agree that “verbal static” in the form of “like”, “you know”, “uh/um”, and the speaking-in-questions isn’t really associated with a particular class/race/geographical area. But in the past, when I’ve seen people rant about “proper language” it has very easily crossed over into areas of racism and classism. I think the commenters were just trying to point that out (myself included).

    Hope you feel better, I hate the February blahs!

  25. the daniel Says:

    I recall something tangential to this discussion from a now lost-to-me metafilter discussion. The commenter asserted that “like” and “all” in the sense of “she was all like” is an interesting development because it is very versatile and compact. You can use it to as a (weak) replacement for “to say”, but you can also follow it up with sound effects, charades, or references references (“she went all mike tyson on that dude”).

    I thought this was an interesting way to think about that particular class of speech filler.

  26. Mer Says:

    “But in the past, when I’ve seen people rant about “proper language” it has very easily crossed over into areas of racism and classism. I think the commenters were just trying to point that out (myself included).”

    Got it! Loud and clear. Cheers, Michelle. And thank you. (Yes, traditionally, Feb is made of poo.)

  27. David Forbes Says:

    Mer, you didn’t offend me in the slightest and I think it’s insane to say the above post was classist/racist/elitist/whatever-the-outrage-du-jour-is. It was a short, humble blast that raised an important point.

    My perception of sloppiness in speech has changed over the years, and I think the biggest single factor was conducting interviews. “Um,” “like,” and similar fillers are pretty much universal, especially when someone’s caught off guard. The specific static varies by generation, but truly adept verbal skills are few and far between.

    So I think the point, as alluded to above, is not that there’s “high/good” and “low/bad” forms of the language, but that words are powerful and we should strive for skill and thought (as well as fun) in how we use them. Verbally or on the page, using them is now what I do for a living, but it only takes one difficult piece or persistent bad habit to remind me what a frustrating beast language can be.

    That said, I don’t think it’s a decline in language so much as a mutation. Part of the reason wordsmiths (myself included, in grumblier moments) see it as a decline is because most of what we have to judge previous generations by is their written communication. By nature this (usually) tends to be more polished and formal. For example, unless we find some hapless gentleman cryogenically preserved, the cruder aspects of day-to-day Victorian speech are lost to time. We are left, mostly, with the formal faces people put on the language of yesteryear.

    However, that’s changing. Thanks to the very internet in which this debate occurs, many of us are seeing formal and informal personas merge, along with the language used for each. That might have plenty of positive implications in the long run (most sea changes in communication do), but it certainly brings plenty of chaos as well. In the course of that turmoil it’s important to remember the need for careful craft alongside improvised vitality.

  28. Nadya Says:

    Like Whiskey Deer Wolf above, I also worked with inner-city high school students while attending a city college (several schools in North Philly, notably Strawberry Mansion High, via Project HOME), which leaves me feeling qualified to respectfully make a few comments here.

    First off, on the subject of education, sadly I have to say that our public school system fails to give children the skills they need in poor areas. We had students coming to us for help at an after-school reading program, junior high school-level kids with a first-grade reading level. Not because they weren’t taking advantage of the programs offered to them by schools, but simply because there wasn’t enough staff at their schools to notice that they had a problem. There are schools so understaffed, I heard of situations where you had art teachers teaching math, schools passing students that normally shouldn’t pass, just to maintain ratings. And it’s not like, “OK, if the students don’t get what they need from teachers, they should just go to the public library, get a book on tape, etc.” First of all, the Free Library of Philadelphia came this close to permanently closing this year. Secondly, “going to the library” is not always a concept that kids are raised with in their home. They’re neglected by the adults around them from an early age, and as a result, they develop learning disabilities. I’ve seen awesome, brilliant, determined kids come out of this environment. But not everyone has that kind of strength. Honestly? I don’t know if I would’ve been one of those kids who “made it” if I’d had the average parenting/public school situation that we saw.

    But as to Mer’s post, I don’t think it’s classicist. That’s not what the poem is about. It’s not about Ebonics. Nor is it about any language characteristics belonging to any one economically disadvantaged group. It’s about the apathetic sentiment of an entire younger generation, manifested in our speech patterns, independent of class. That was my interpretation, at least.

    Also to David, I have to say I’m not crazy about the framing of this as “whatever-the-outrage-du-jour-is.” Honestly, I am glad we had this discussion here, and I always hope that people are ALWAYS forthcoming with these kinds of critiques. We want to hear them. They make us think, they make us grow. So thank you to all the dissenting voices – we’re glad you’re here.

  29. m1k3y Says:

    like, dude.. language or GTFO!!1


  30. Konstantin Says:

    The degeneration of the spoken language is definitely cause for concern. So is the fact that it appears to be a global trend – my native Russian, for example, is often butchered so far beyond recognition that I want to cry. I make no exaggeration – it really is that bad.

    The worst part is that society acknowledges and embraces this shift towards disorganized, disjointed, unpolished speech. Being well-spoken now makes you a snob. Knowing what a thesaurus is, let alone how to use it, is a cultural crime. Isn’t that unfortunate? Why shouldn’t we try and improve the way we speak in the same way that we would improve our writing, or our physical appearance? I mean, at first I was like, whatever, but it’s starting to like, y’know?

  31. whelky Says:

    just wanted to clarify: i don’t think, and i wasn’t at all insinuating, that mer was being racist/classist. i was just pointing out the slippery slope that fans out from the original video’s premise and making a case for the.. sort of deep grammar of “filler” speech disfluency, as a universal pattern in spoken language. sorry if my post read as being accusatory – definitely wasn’t my intention.

  32. Mer Says:

    No worries, Whelky! I completely got that from your response. The points you brought up were spot-on, too. This is a slippery slope. One can slide easily from the kind of criticisms Mali (and I) are bringing up, to more elitist and unkind judgments. It’s good to be reminded of that.

  33. David Forbes Says:

    Nadya, I’m glad this discussion occurred too, and the last thing I would want to do is scare people away from offering dissents or critiques. By all means I always hope anyone that has thoughts on a piece here offers them in comment, especially if they disagree. I regret if my words came off as discouraging that.

    I had no intent to frame the whole discussion as the “outrage-du-jour,” far from it. What that sentence was directed at was an unfortunate tendency, on thorny topics, to throw around words like “classist,” which usually ends up just being hyperbole that obscures more interesting and constructive critiques.

    So yeah, basically: be careful with words. Myself included. Srsly.

  34. Nadya Says:

    David, I completely get where you’re coming from. I didn’t mean to single you out, because I know that you get it. I was just having a knee-jerk reaction because of how others would use that turn of the phrase. Actually that’s really similar to how Whelky and others didn’t mean to single Mer out, because they know she gets it, they were just responding to this on a more general level, about the potential dangers of this line of discussion in less sensitive hands.

  35. Tertiary Says:

    In defense of “Um”, I just watched Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Laureate give a presentation, and she um-ed on more than one occasion in the process of doing so. Mind you, her and her husband had just been awarded -another- prestigious award (not on the level of a Nobel, but still only given out ten times previously), and she might have been a bit emotional.

    But otherwise I agree.
    “Like” and “you know” (or ‘gna’mean?”) or “whatever” are simply lazy, meaningless takers-up-of-space that people use as shorthand, or like Germans use “Also” (which they have been doing for a very long time. Read Mark Twain’s essay “The Awful German Language”: http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/awfgrmlg.html ).

    Our society has tossed out eloquence in favor of… what? Meaningless, cliche speech patterns?

    I can recall when I started hearing Valley Girl speech patterns from Midwestern girls.

    I bet the next wave will be Jersey.

  36. Erin Says:

    Seems like everyone above already said what I was thinking Re: language prescription, education, etc.

    I must lead a pretty sheltered life in that I’ve only ever encountered one person who actually spoke like this. If anything I’ve had more of a problem with people being waaaay too verbose, presumably in an attempt to sound more “classy.” That extreme end of the spectrum can also really impede comprehension. Both in real life and literature.

    And lord knows I would take a thousand “like, ya knows” over Judith Butler any day.

  37. fortheloveofthestars Says:

    LarsVader Says:
    “This is one of the many reasons why we Europeans are making fun of Americans in general.”

    Yes, because there isn’t a single European cultural group that does this. Chavs are so high class with a genteel turn of phrase that would put gold on the edge of lilies.

    RE: The actual article, I find language filler* far less offending then out right continual mispronunciation of words. I learned to stop saying bre-fixed instead of Breakfast, for god sakes young people it’s not LI-BERRY!

    (*I have the bad tendency to use “and he was all” purely because it is very silly. “So I sez to him, I sez Murray…” Is another format that amuses me.)

  38. Ed Autumn Says:

    I love that video and poem for making me laugh because it’s the rant that plays over and over in my head everyday whilst hearing other people conversate. It can get especially annoying when you know they have a better command of language yet choose to ignore it! Also, I don’t think this was offensive in any way and I hope more people can appreciate its power and relevance than trying to dismiss it as a ‘low blow’, however subtlely you may detect it.

  39. rickie Says:

    i’ve met rich people who sound like complete idiots and poor people who sound highly intelligent.

    i’ve met illiterate people using words they didn’t know how to spell, trying to sound smart by telling you some definition they heard from a tv movie.

    i’ve worked with, and been proud of, students in very similar situations as nadya. i’ve also been sorely disappointed with the education system that has made it impossible for many students to succeed. the same system that pressures educators to pass students because by not passing them, they would blow the whistle on all previous teachers who have wrongfully passed students. no one wants to be the bad guy, so everyone is one as a result. the students that really tried to succeed didn’t speak in the manner the poem depicts. the more superficial ones did.

    proper word usage has an unfortunate influence on how people view intelligence. i am prejudiced in the same way, but only for those whose primary…nay, *only* language… is english. i know that the poem, and what mer was referring to, operates under the assumption that those speaking in this way are native english speakers.

    i relate much easier to people who are bilingual because of their tendency to ‘think outside the box’. the way they express ideas and make connections. and each language has a unique spin on things.

    being around people in their teens to 20’s, or even early 30’s, leaves me anticipating the ‘like’ ‘you know’ ‘he was all’ ‘so i’m like’ and hence, a bit more lenient on accepting it…it’s a part of life, right? but when someone older than that busts that lingo out, my nerves get all frazzled and shit…maybe i’m just associating the phrases with people i hated in high school.

  40. Sam "baudot" Brown Says:

    You’re a few months early, m’dear. December is the 50th anniversary of Thurber’s “The Spreading You Know”.

  41. .typhoid Says:

    By definition, rickie, the illiterate do not know how to spell any word they use in speech.

  42. Tequila Says:

    Ah, this is why I enjoy this blog so.

    I’ve little to add that others have not already said brilliantly. Many comments have caused me to rethink a few of my own ideas towards language. That said one has to remember the nature of our society now vs. even the recent past.

    Much of the language skills so many seem to miss were directly related to the expectations and decorum of the society surrounding it. Simply said we’re just not that formal anymore. We’ve made so many things casual that we now approach nearly every social situation as if we’re taking to our best friends. We have not gotten lazy with out language skills just too comfortable.

    Slang, pop culture, etc. have always hammered at language (an episode of I Love Lucy revolves around this and remains fresh because of it.) However now we inject it in areas it was one barred from as a way to keep things socially comfortable & accepting. A fantastic notion in theory but in practice it seems to do more harm than good now.

    I doubt any here (ok maybe some) would want a return to Victorian style social etiquette. As a generation we’ve invested more time with what’s acceptable online vs. offline…and much of what we thought as out of date (really etiquette as whole) now suffers for it. How can language even stand a chance when we write more than we actually talk. Though you’d think the rise of the cell phones would have made this a non-issue. Just seems we’re getting less and less connected to HOW we talk vs. WHY we talk.

  43. HouseOfAnkh Says:

    I think I large portion of this work was not even in reference to using proper grammar and doing away with slang, but more so a SUGGESTION to stop softening the conviction of our words by adding words/phrases such as “Like” and “You know”.
    In particular “You know” tends to follow a very lazily put together statement that is likely to be misunderstood, and therefore must be followed with such, I suppose to ensure all interested parties are on the same page.
    It’s ridiculous to call this post “classist”, on the basis that a perceived lack of education (because of income) is an excuse to be unaware of the correct usage of words. There are both dictionaries and grammar books at the dollar store. Library cards are FREE. I doubt any of us received all of the knowledge we possess from our schooling. Intelligence, or rather our ability to project such is a combination of things we’re taught, and things we teach ourselves. I bet that Meredith DOES pop herself with rubber bands, just as I might stomp my right foot following the occasional failure to pronounce the first R in February. I don’t speak for Mer, but in my mind, such actions are taken as reminders to ourselves that we know better and should show it.
    I don’t mind someone telling me how they got “Like totally drunk n’shit last week, man!” But I don’t want to hear about how “We need to like revise the constitution, cause it’s all ::hand gesture::, ya know?” There are some people for whom there is no separation of the subjects in terms of how they should be approached. Such people exist in ALL facets of society, as is laziness, and apathy and I imagine that all three vices occupy the same space a great deal of the time.

  44. Angeliska Says:

    I loved this post, the video and all the ensuing commentary.
    I think it’s fantastic that Coilhouse so often can become a
    forum for the exchange of views, and I always learn so much
    from all the interesting people who read and comment.

    My own two cents? I am, like, TOTALLY guilty of talking like a stoner idiot, all too often. It’s a verbal reflex that I loathe, but also harbor a strange amused affection for (re: saying DUDE, semi-unironically). I also unconsciously do the accent/dialect/cadence mirroring, though I wish I could stop.

    I think the thing that disturbs me most is the realization that it’s just not cool to sound like you know what you’re talking about. It’s horrifying to think that anyone intelligent would intentionally try and sound like a dumb-ass, because sounding smart or like “a nerd” is lame. Sadly, I see people do it every day. I think it has something to do with the hipster youth concept of “trying too hard”. There’s a weird allure for a lot of people to make their grey t-shirts appear perfectly untucked, their hair groomed into apparently haphazard coifs. It’s the affected apathy that gets me down, or as Nadya put it so succinctly: “It’s about the apathetic sentiment of an entire younger generation, manifested in our speech patterns, independent of class. That was my interpretation, at least.” I’m with you, girl.

  45. Mer Says:

    ““It’s about the apathetic sentiment of an entire younger generation, manifested in our speech patterns, independent of class. ”

    Yep, that’s basically all I was trying to say, too. Ah well! :) Guess I tried too hard. But, in my book (as in my speech), better to be accused of “trying too hard” than not hard enough.

  46. Alicia Says:

    I won’t rehash anything above, but I got what you meant, Mer. Like, totally. =P

    I’ll be yoinking this video and using it for my own purposes. Thanks for posting it.

  47. Charlotte Says:

    “Well, that’s like your opinion, man…”

    No, in addition to “dude” and “omgeez”, I’m guilty of “y’all” and “ain’t” on a regular basis. I was once at a party (now that I think about it, oddly enough, it was a Big Lebowski-themed party) where the average age of the party-goers was in the mid-30’s, and we were celebrating the engagements of 2 amazing international lawyers, who were marrying a pair of brothers.

    The more I drank, the more self-conscious I became of my awful, teenage-y speech…to the point where I began to feel the need to apologize to everyone I met.

  48. Erin Says:


    “I bet that Meredith DOES pop herself with rubber bands, just as I might stomp my right foot following the occasional failure to pronounce the first R in February.”

    …except not pronouncing the first R in February is not incorrect. Any and all dictionaries I’ve encountered say that both pronunciations are acceptable, and there’s no scholarly basis out there for preferring one over the other.

    Do you also pronounce the first D in Wednesday?

  49. Peechiz Says:

    I love both kinetic typography and Taylor Mali with equal vigor.

    Good post.

  50. nadmai Says:

    I used to like, like ‘like’, but now I like don’t…or something

  51. aristhasia Says:

    “the decline of talking like you’re intelligent and sincerely care.”

    Oh dear, I saw this quote and thought – shouldn’t it be “the decline of speaking as though you are intelligent and sincerely care” ;)

    I appreciate proper grammar, punctuation, and diction and agree with the sentiments in this post. I sincerely believe that anyone who wishes to do so can learn to speak properly. Nothing prevents a person from modifying their speech, except for cultural bias. From my personal observation, there is often a reverse bias favoring the slang speech over proper speech, and most young people choose to speak in a colloquial way in order to fit in with their peers.

  52. Jason Says:

    You bafoons, this poem isn’t solely about using filler words or slang in speech, more so, it is about SPEAKING WITH CONVICTION; sounding like you know something, you know? Today’s people have become increasingly incapable of giving coherent and effective expression of ideas. This diarticulation Mali speaks of has caused declarative sentences to sound less assertive and more inquisitive., (i.e)you know? It has become hip and cool to sound like one doesnt know what they’re talking about, However, in order to fully express one’s ideas one must speak with autority and confidence.

  53. Typography | OffWorld Says:

    […] Sé que es un texto muy centrado en los vicios del lenguaje americano, pero ¿acaso no es aplicable a lo que vemos y oímos a nuestro alrededor todos los días a todas horas? Descubierto vía CoilHouse. […]

  54. Akcesoria GSM Says:

    I really love this post, the video and all the ensuing commentary heh

  55. Hank Says:

    I take offense to the comments that this has classist and racist elements, it clearly does not. Since when does skin color directly cause a certain dialect? This is the problem with young people in society today. They think it is actually offensive to speak the truth if it criticizes anyone in any way. This mentality is detrimental to our society. Like it or not, your vernacular directly influences what people think of you both personally and professionally. Because of the ignorant opinion that these criticisms are classist and racist, many young people are dumbfounded at why their careers are not progressing as they would like, or their personal reputation is not what they would like it to be. Political correctness has run a muc and is causing a myriad of problems in our current society. IMHO