“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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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. […]

  4. Akcesoria GSM Says:

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

  5. 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