I was like "Yeah!" and he went "Really?"

Posted by Jim on January 10, 2002

In Reply to: I was like "Yeah!" and he went "Really?" posted by R. Berg on January 09, 2002

: : : Does any one know where the peculiar practice in some parts of London of adding a rhetorical question to the end of a statement originates? For example, "I went down the pub, didn't I?"

: : : As an aside, I have a friend from New Zealand who spent her first months in London politely asking "Did you?", every time!

: : Despite being a Londoner and therefore well aware of the above, I have no idea why it has come about. Similar is the usage of "and so I turned to him and said... and so he turned to me and said" when verbally recounting a dialogue, which gives the impression that both speakers are permanently spinning at a reasonably high rate of revolutions per minute.

: : Equally as strange is the more recent US practice of "and so I was like..." to mean "and so I said..." I'd be interested also in knowing when/where this came about.

: "I was like" came about among teenagers and has spread to an older set. Guests in their thirties on daytime TV talk shows can now be heard using it; apparently people catch it from their kids, or else these speakers acquired the habit as teens and never outgrew it. My vague impression is that it became popular in the 1980s. My even vaguer impression is that girls used it before boys did.

: In a variant, the speaker replaces "say" with "be all," as in "Then she shows us the tickets, and I'm all 'Wow, those are in the front row!'"

: "Go" for "say" preceded "be like" and "be all." "And then she goes 'Front row?' and I go 'Yeah, can I buy one off you?'" I remember college students using "go" that way in the 1960s. An essay by some language expert or other (sorry, I forget) speculated that this usage arose from models like "The dog goes woof, the cow goes moo"--statements about nonspeech vocalizations, common in children's books.

: My opinion: "Be like" and "be all" are used for two reasons. They serve as hedges when the speaker isn't sure that what follows is an exact quotation. They signal that the dialogue being recounted may be a paraphrase. They're more global than "say" in that they introduce more than just what was said. Paralinguistic features are included. The speaker is also an actor: she says "I'm all 'Wow, those are in the front row!'" while (beginning with the word "Wow") jumping up and down and waving her arms and displaying an excited facial expression, to re-create the whole scene for the current listener.

In northern Minnesotta, statements and questions are often concluded with an "eh?" sound. "So I had me a Hamms, Eh. "Meet me at the bar, eh" The eh? signals completion of the vocal expression, similar to "Over" in radio communications. I'm done, you talk. Like is a bridging sound connecting vocal expressions (fragments) and signals "like" I'm not finished speaking. "Like" is associated with "valspeak", the vocal mannerism of young, southern California "valley girls" of the eighties. In terms of popular culture, as California goes, so goes the nation. The rest of us are just catching up.