Friday, March 14, 2008

Like, Whatever

Okay, so I’ve only posted twice this month (which is almost half over) and my boss is out of the library so I’ve challenged myself to complete a post before she gets back. I can’t promise it will supply any great insight or even make sense, but I’m going out of town this weekend so there won’t be another chance to post until next week.

There is a gaggle of female faculty and faculty wives chattering over by the computers. One is expecting, and the conversation is about the cost of C-sections and private schools. Someone help me with the math here. If there are three people in a group and two are talking at the same time what will the person not talking hear? I’m a guy, and we’re pretty slow, but I can only listen and digest what one person is saying at a time. How do women seem to manage to hear what all three are saying even while they are talking as well? It seems supernatural.

They’ve broken up now and two are wooing over someone’s wedding photos on one of the monitors. It’s as if they’re collaborating on a dissertation about wedding planning. It’s interesting just to listen to the hum and try not to hear any words. There will be a prolonged silence and then both will start talking at the same time, probably provoked by a new image. Their conversation is overlapping so they start talking at the same time, but soon one concedes to the other who then finishes her thoughts. The process repeats itself several more times until silence falls over them again.

I realize that if I ever get married and have children this is what I might have to get used to. Happy endless chatter about women stuff. This isn’t criticism you understand, just respectful curiosity.

Warning: there is absolutely no transition here.

I’m amazed at how the word “like” has integrated itself into American speech. Did this really stem from the Valley Girl explosion of the 80s? I’ve been trying to count the times someone says, “and I was like,” “and it was like,” “and we were all like,” etc. I actually welcome the usage. It has to be post-modern. Absolutes reside in the realm of the past now, so the word “like,” in the form used more and more these days, is a great expression of the ambiguity of life. Instead of saying, “I told him ‘you’re a rude selfish driver who should be buried in a dungeon somewhere until you learn to drive properly,’” I can say “and I was all like, ‘you’re a rude selfish driver who should be buried in a dungeon somewhere until you learn to drive properly.’” This way I am absolved from complete accuracy, and if the subject happens to show up and say “no you didn’t, you said ‘you’re a rude #$%$@#$%$ !@#$$%%^ **&^%$$ who should ^%^$$#& and *&&^^%$#$ your (*&^%$%$ you ^%#%&^%--%^&%$ mother!!!’” I won’t be held to the actual "facts" of my first statement.

“Whatever” is another one I enjoy thinking about. Why are so many people prejudiced against this fantastic expression of passive-aggressive behavior? (reader, please know that I have gone strictly into tongue-and-cheek mode here, which is something I have to spell out occasionally to those who don’t know me.) “Whatever” is the absolving term of all absolving terms. It is also a word that is very hard to write about because it is difficult not to read it for its original meaning. I’ll try to use what I believe is its original meaning in a sentence. “Whatever I do, I can’t seem to open the cheese packet without swearing out loud at the people who made the cheese packet so hard to open.” Okay, so here is the new use of the word. “When I complained to the guy from the cheese company about how hard the cheese packet is to open he just shrugged and said ‘whatever.’”

People seem to have taken the use of this word to extremes. Like (see how I use the new form of "like") if you tell your roommate that the rental furniture will be repossessed if you don’t pay the bill, and by saying “whatever” the roommate automatically makes that statement untrue. (reminder: I’m still in T&C mode, I don’t have a roommate and my furniture has long been paid for). I’m just wondering, if “like” has become the term for unaccountability in speech, has “whatever” become the symbol for denial?

This post is definitely convoluted and confusing, and I didn’t finish before my boss got back.

I missed the chance to do this when I was doing my English degree, but it would have been fun to write a paper on the emergence of these expressions and what they mean in our way of communicating. All kidding aside, I think both of them will be around for at least a little while longer, and I can’t help thinking that they may become permanent because they convey a new type of behavior in our culture. We needed something to express the slack unaccountability of consumer culture and what better way than using words that already exist? This way you don’t have to all that trouble of creating a brand new expression, we can just borrow one—on credit of course.


Anonymous said...

I came over to check out the blogger who got 5/5 on archie's bbc quiz.

I'll be back like. whatever.

Danny said...

I found myself wondering if the first part of this post wasn't written specifically to bait your sisters! Or maybe I'm just curious to hear their reactions to it (but baiting sisters is a favorite past-time of mine!). "Happy endless chatter about women stuff?" Oy, as a fellow male, I want to shout "DUCK!"

Loved the rest of your ramblings, too, but I admit that the word "whatever" coming out of my 13-year-old daughter's mouth after some impassioned speech of mine makes me want to beat my head against a wall.


Froshty said...

NPR did an interesting story on the expression "it is what it is" and likened it to "whatever." I liked all your examples.

Richard said...

I have a huge problem not saying "like" or "whatever" in sentences. My best constructed sentence ever: "I mean, it was just like, whatever."

IM said...

Hi Nursemyra, come by anytime. I actually got 5 out of 7 on the quiz but I still feel pretty smart.

This does sound a bit like baiting Danny, and come to think of it I am probably already used to that happy endless chatter from childhood. Now that really WAS baiting.

I would have liked to have heard that NPR piece Froshty...the words have really become a mainstay in our culture

Richard, I caught myself using like twice in the same sentence today. It's so, like, easy to do. I've been compared to Shaggy on Scooby Doo and I believe he used the word a lot.

Emily Barton said...

Haven't you ever noticed that we women have a third ear? And we can turn it on and off depending on how many people we're talking to. You haven't? Oh, well, whatever...

IM said...

Is that what it is? A third ear you say. Now it's all clear to me.

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