Always keen to appreciate yoofspeak, I learn from reading this post from Stan Carey on the “quotative like”—
“And I’m like…”
This is to be distinguished from the impersonal use of “like”, of which my favourite instance is the Californian bather in difficulty:
and also from the ludic, rhetorical “What am I like?!” (often accompanied by a LOL), which is also harmless ironic fun.
As Carey observes,
Often, “I’m like” isn’t followed by a quotation at all, but sets up a miniature performance of facial expression, body language, attitude.
Another classic instance of this would be
—which is further enhanced by the ascending cadence (sic), of whose more general use I’m not like always so tolerant???
With quotative like we can do more than simply report speech: we may convey an interaction with expansive social and performative detail.
And it takes on a new life online:
Offline we might say I’m like and make a caricatured facial expression; online, we use images instead to communicate those staged reactions. These funny, often self-deprecating tweets use instantly interpretable images to substitute for (and expand upon) those physical gestures, expressions, and body language that accompany ordinary speech but are difficult or impossible to replicate online.
Quotative like can set up a whole miniature drama, with visual content contributing to a richer vocabulary than words alone could license. Online and off, used with images or micro-performances, quotative like is not a lazy crutch of semi-literate teens but a handy and highly functional addition to our lexicon—and to our paralinguistic repertoire. No wonder it has caught on.
Carey cites Steven Poole, taking Christopher Hitchens to task for a shallow denigration of quotative like, since
he was like and he said do not actually mean the same thing; and Hitchens is like, I do not approve of this youthspeak that I have not made sufficient efforts to understand?
He also adduces further fine analyses online, like (sic) languagelog, and this weighty survey.
As you can see from Carey’s post, and the comments there, the internet is like awash with discussion—I’m like WOW! here’s a more recent Guardian article.
I remember being bemused the first time I heard a younger friend using “And I’m like…” in the mid-90s. Unlike “YAY!”, somehow I haven’t yet managed to incorporate it into my own conversation.
For another drôle parallel text, see here; for trends in Chinese, here.
17 thoughts on “And I’m like”
This is beautiful! What is our sinister urge to listen to another person talk and then say somehow the way they said what they said is unacceptable? Just cause it’s unfamiliar?
Hmm, yes there’s a lot of prescriptivism out there, and not just in language… And it’s a sliding scale—many linguists do get irked by some usages, as I do by HRT/uptalk…
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I like, like this.
Steve Jones is like, ya know?
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