"I know, right?"

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Today's Zits:


It seems that we language bloggers haven't been holding our end up on this one. Back in 2007, Dave's Midlife Blog looked in vain on Language Log and Language Hat for an analysis of the phrase that Jeremy uses in the last panel:

When the phrase “I know” is used in English [...], it signifies assent and acceptance of the point of view of a conversational partner. It’s a fairly confident assertion of acknowledgement, of agreement.

On the other hand, the questioning “right?” stuck onto the end of a sentence is a request of affirmation of an assertion and a simultaneous invitation to disagreement. Right? Don’t you think so? Do you agree with me?

So when a young speaker (and I’ve only heard this phrase used by speakers under the age of 25) combines the two, it seems to be a simultaneous assertion of confidence and an instant pulling back of that confidence so as not to seem too pushy. It seems to ask for a continuation of the conversation. If the interlocutors continue the conversation, it may branch into areas of disagreement, but so far they are of the same mind.

I tried to find a discussion of this on Language Log without success; likewise with Language Hat.

All he could find was some peeving on Le Mot Juste:

And what does it even mean? That you have an opinion, but you need my permission to validate it? Don't ask me if you know immediately after you tell me you know. Either you know or you don't know. The next time you say, "I know, right," expect me to say, "no, you're wrong. You obviously don't know, so don't waste my time trying to convince me you do."

This analysis didn't satisfy Dave — as he sensibly observed,

I don’t think that would actually happen in conversation, because I don’t think the phrase would be uttered if there weren’t already some basic agreement present …

There's apparently something new here, as suggested by the fact that this phrase now has several Urban Dictionary entries and its own initialism — but what is it that's new?

The New Thing is certainly not the idea of agreeing with someone's opinion and then appearing to ask them to confirm it again, as further validation rather than as an expression of doubt. Ways of doing exactly that have been around for a long time, without (as far as I know) anyone noticing or complaining.  Thus in William Archer's 1890 translation of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House:

Nora. Ony think! my husband has been made Manager of the Joint Stock Bank.
Mrs. Linden. Your husband! Oh, how fortunate!
Nora. Yes, isn't it? A lawyer's position is so uncertain, you see, especially when he won't touch any business that's the least bit . . . shady, as of course Torvald won't; and in that I quite agree with him.

This pattern is a common one — you can find it in William Dean Howells 1907 play A Previous Engagement:

Mrs. Winton: "How delightful! Why, it's quite like something improper!
Mr. Camp: "Yes, isn't it?"

Or in Agatha Christie's 1959 crime novel The Cat Among the Pigeons:

'That's very vague, Miss Rich.'
'Yes, isn't it?'

Now, the same sort of peeves ought to apply to these cases as well. When someone has just offered an opinion, and you've agreed with it, how can asking them to confirm the evaluation reinforce your agreement rather than subtracting from it?

We can see the answer in passages where the author tells us more about the thoughts and feelings of the participants in the exchange. Thus Alexandra Potter, The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather:

Her jaw drops. "Oh my gosh that's just . . ." She trails off, words failing her momentarily, before coming alive again. "Splendid!" she gushes finally. "Simply splendid!" She beams at me, almost trembling with excitement.

Watching her reaction it suddenly throws my own into contrast. She's absolutely right. It is splendid. Though I'd probably choose to describe it as fantastic, I think, bemused by Beatrice's choice of adjective.

"I know, isn't it?" I enthuse, mirroring her excitement.

"Absolutely. It's amazing," she whoops, …

Charlotte and Beatrice are "mirroring" feelings back and forth. In this context, the question "isn't it?" is an invitation to continue the process, and it therefore intensifies the shared evaluation rather than attenuating it. And you can see the same process in stereotyped "right?" examples like this one:

So why do people react when "right?" is used for this purpose instead of "isn't it?"  Well, the obvious answer is that they're not used to it. This usage, or at least its frequency, may be something new. As usual, we should check for the "recency illusion", but there's no question that many people perceive this as a new (over-)usage. Thus in a November 2010 forum discussion in response to the prompt "describe your classmates" one young person characterized four of them as "'Gee like OMG totally right?' kind [of] girls".

In addition, this mirroring or intensifying "right?" can be used in a much wider range of circumstances than the mirroring or intensifying "isn't it?". Thus in Greg David, "Tek finds love", TVGuide 8/18/2009:

TVGuide.ca: I’m sorry you got eliminated so soon.
Tek Moore: Yeah, it’s a shame, but it’s all right.
TVG: I like that you shot the devil horns as you walked down the hallway though; was there a significance to doing that?
TM: I know, really, right? I was relieved to be done. I know that I can cook, but I was having some serious malfunctions cooking in Hell’s Kitchen… it was so stressful and so tough… it was kind of like, ‘OK, I can breathe easy now’ once I knew I was finished. I left with a positive attitude.

We can't idiomatically substitute "I know, really, isn't it?" in this case, because the evaluation being mirrored ("I like that you shot the devil horns") doesn't make an antecedent available for the it of "isn't it?".

So OK, Dave, it's four years late, but there you go.

Update — someone felt strongly enough about this to create and post an elaborate youtube peeve "Stop Saying 'I know, right?'" and an associated Facebook group. Neither one seems to have gotten a lot of traction.  In a more sympathetic vein, here are some acted examples from this video:

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87 Comments »

  1. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:37 am

    Isn't "right?" used here as short for "all right?" as a signal that no more discussion will be entertained. "I know" = I'm aware that I was in the wrong. "Right?" = And I don't care to dwell on it.

    "Are you gonna have another beer just before you go to bed?"
    "I'm still thirsty, all right?"

    [(myl) In your example, yes. In the comic strip, and in the other examples that I quoted, no.]

  2. KevinM said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:40 am

    For me (full disclosure: I'm, um, over 25) it carries a strong flavor of "I've always thought that, but never (been able to/had the nerve to) express it."
    Example that springs to mind is from the movie Juno (the title character is identifying her impregnator):
    Juno: "Um, it's… it's Paulie Bleeker." Mac MacGuff: "Paulie Bleeker?" Juno: "What?" Mac MacGuff: "I didn't think he had it in him." Leah: "I know, right?"

  3. MattF said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:41 am

    @Dan Lufkin

    Hmm. That's just the opposite of the signal that the post is proposing. So, which is it? And is there some way of testing the alternate hypothesis?

  4. kayd said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:45 am

    I'm also well over the age where I can use this phrase and not sound silly. I think it's used more as shorthand for the intensifying "am I right?" or "you can say that again."

    "That's ridiculous!"
    "I know, right?"

    And I noticed just the other day that one or two of my younger FB friends responded to comments with "IKR." So … it's pretty mainstream among that young-adult (pre-adult?) age group, I would say.

  5. Ross Presser said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:54 am

    I lean towards agreeing with KevinM. It also exactly fits the situation from the comic that this blog entry led off with.

    The flavor is a little different usually, though. It's not so much "I've always thought that but I am too meek" but more "I am gratified that you too think this is outrageous."

  6. Andrew said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:55 am

    "We can't idiomatically substitute "I know, really, isn't it?" "

    But you probably could in Indian English, right? (isn't it?) I wonder if any Indian English-speaking teenagers say that.

  7. Spell Me Jeff said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:58 am

    The expression has always struck me as an affirmation of presumably shared astonishment/disgust at some phenomenon that dominates the immediate context. Kind of like: "This thing we've just seen/heard is pretty damned remarkable. I can see (I imagine) that you're as shocked as I am. For the sake of convention, I'll give you an opportunity to deny the proposition, but it's so obvious that I don't expect you to take me up on it."

    Or perhaps more simply, "We're in this together, don't you think?"

  8. Wm Annis said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:01 am

    I don't really use "right" this way — I'm too old — though a co-worker does, and I suspect it may be pushing it's way into my lexicon.

    But the instant I saw the peevology around this, it occurred to me to wonder if all peevology rests on the assumption that language exists primarily (only?) for encoding propositional content. It's pretty obvious that a phrase like "I know, right" both expresses and solicits sympathy and solidarity. To reinterpret it as encoding a proposition is positively perverse. Is that actually how peevoligists think about language, or just a tool they use to mock the lower sorts?

  9. nickb said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:02 am

    "It seems to ask for a continuation of the conversation."

    I think this is pretty spot-on. As a member of the sub-25 demographic who uses this sort of thing, I can attest to that.
    To me, it expresses something along the lines of "You just expressed exactly what I was thinking. I like that we are on the same page and I want you to know I like that we agree."
    I think it also expresses agreement with something that wasn't explicitly expressed by the interlocutor. The way Pierce says "For two weeks??" Implies something like "Your phone was taken away for THAT long?" And Jeremy knowingly replies with "I know, right?" as if to let his friend know he's agreeing with the full sentiment.

    It's pretty much exactly like "I know, eh?" used a lot in Canada.

  10. evilado said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:02 am

    @KevinM

    I would add a third meaning: "I've always thought that, but didn't think anyone/you agreed with me." It's a bit of solidarity or choosing sides on any issue. "I'm with you and it's weird that more people don't agree with us."

    Full Disclosure: I am 25.

  11. Mr Fnortner said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:06 am

    While "right?" and "isn't it?" seem to be asking for validation, I think instead that they are very much like exclamations that just appear to be questions. By this I mean that there seems to be little semantic difference between "isn't it?" and "isn't it," or "don'tcha know?" and "don'tcha know," and the like. It's routine for speakers to say, "Isn't it just like Bob to golf in the rain but not want to walk the dog," and not really intend the interrogative. This also works for tag questions, right? And the rising intonation doesn't necessarily signal uncertainty. It may be a conversation extending gambit (as noted), yet could also be an inquiry into the listener's grasp of the idea just put forth.

  12. Andrew Pendleton said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:09 am

    @Dan Lufkin, I don't think that's it at all, and @KevinM, I don't really get that sense, either; the post nails it, though. Dan, you're proposing that it's used in annoyance, but I certainly haven't experienced that. It's generally used to express a shared sense of enthusiasm about something, at least in my peer group. You're both agreeing and acknowledging that you feel as excited/strongly about the thing as the original speaker did. I'm 24, and this turn of phrase is very common among my friends.

  13. K.R. said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:16 am

    Isn't it important to note that the other person in the conversation has already affirmed their opinion? In the cartoon, Jeremy's friend gasps. So Jeremy is the one who affirms his friend's reaction–this is the reaction Jeremy had hoped for when he began to tell the story. They share similar values and cultural beliefs (in this case, the view that a cell phone is a teenage right, not a privilege, and Jeremy's sentence is harsh).

    I first heard this phrase in 2004 from a Filipino housekeeper from Queens who must have been between 35 and 40. She had teenage kids, so maybe she picked up the expression from them. But while listening to her speak, if I reacted in a way that affirmed her role in the story she was telling, she would respond with, "I know, right?" My teenage sister does the same thing, and I think you hear this most commonly with teenagers because they're practicing adult behavior before entering an adult world. They want to know that their own reaction is valid, and that you, the recipient of their story, responded to the same events in the way they did.

    It does, in some cases, hold a little cockiness, self-righteousness, or insecurity. The expression can be used as a trump card: I'm not listening to your affirmation because I'm already confident in my opinion, so I'll state again that I thought of it first. The "right?" is rhetorical. That's where the "OMG totally right" girls become obnoxious.

  14. R said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:16 am

    I've always maintained "I know, right?" was popularized by Mean Girls (2004). If the age you cite (25) is on track, this movie was big with people in that age group as they were graduating high school.

  15. WillG said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:34 am

    I agree with NickB as to the meaning of this phrase, although of course it varies somewhat with the situation… IKR doesn't have to express a positive or negative feeling, it simply acknowledges a shared viewpoint ("I know") and intensifies/reflects the first speaker's statement back at them ("right?"). As such it may also be used when the second speaker has little new to contribute, or wants to cede the direction of the conversation to the first speaker. I think this additional meaning relates to the negative attitude some people take towards the phrase, as its overuse might indicate an exceedingly passive/uninformed speaker.

    "That was terrible!" — "I know, right?!!"

    "That was awesome!" — "I know, right?!!"

  16. Rick Sprague said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:34 am

    A good test on the continuation-invitation aspect of IKR? should be whether it constitutes an entire conversational turn, or conversely whether it's followed by something else. I searched COCA and found 8 occurrences (from 2001 to 2010). In all but one of them, it constituted the entire conversational turn. The exception was transcribed from the NBC Today show:

    CURRY: Something very comforting about deviled egg on this holiday.

    Ms-CLAPP: I know, right? So everyone's throwing burgers on the grill…

    I would guess that the exception occurs in this case because of the type of discourse. Ms. Class was presenting a feature on alternative recipes for holiday barbecues, not really engaging in a conversation. The "I know" was there to signal agreement with Clapp's sentiment, but by itself the phrase would have been dismissive; the "right?" was essential for politeness.

    I think this can be generalized: "I know" expresses agreement, but can be dismissive or interruptive of the conversational line. Adding "right?" avoids this.

    (There was a ninth occurrence, but it was unrelated, being a subordinate clause: "I could stand here and say that I know, right?")

  17. Jeorg said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:47 am

    As someone who has been teaching undergrads for some time now, I don't ven notice this expression anymore, to the point I thought the entry was going to be about the character using term "popped". But I realize now, that I have picked the expression up… And I am a lovely number of years above 25.

  18. Lazar said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:49 am

    I'm a 21-year-old American, and I'll confess that I do love using this expression – although in textual terms, I'm much more likely to use the facetious spelling "inorite?" (sometimes in all caps) than the initialism "ikr".

    As a fan of Craig Ferguson, I'm reminded of his habit of exclaiming "I know!" after telling his audience something that they find shocking or unbelievable, as if to indicate that he shares or acknowledges their incredulity.

  19. Greg said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:52 am

    I'm 32, but use "I know, right?"

    (The preferred spelling, though, is "i no rite?"–well ok, maybe that's just preferred by my friends and I)

    I find Mark's explanation of "rite?" as an invitation to continue or elaborate convincing, particularly when you consider interrogative "right?" used as a standalone interjection into a conversation.

    Most of the other alleged "meanings" offered in comments strike me as completely wrong; in my own use, I never mean to signal anything about the duration of time for which I've held the opinion in question, for example (it would be perfectly acceptable to say, "i no rite?" in response to an idea you'd never even entertained before, but are just now judging to be correct).

  20. Rebecca said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 11:00 am

    What about the version of "right?" that has more or less the same (high-rising) prosody as the "right?" of "I know, right?" and seems to serve the same function as the whole phrase (agreement), but as a whole turn by itself? Any way to know which came first?

  21. Rick Sprague said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 11:10 am

    To put a finer point on it, we could think of "I know" as a discourse particle with one semantic meaning but two discourse functions:

    "I know [that]" (flat intonation) = I agree—so don't waste time explaining

    "I know [right?]" (emphasis intonation) = I agree—no explanation is necessary, but let's enjoy this shared belief/feeling

    The first function can range from neutral to rudely dismissive, while the second is uniformly encouraging. I suspect that "right?" got tacked on for redundant emphasis, or maybe disambiguation in dialects where intonation is less variable (e.g. Valley Girl dialect).

  22. Eric P Smith said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 11:17 am

    @Wm Annis: What you say about peevology rings true to me. Until three years ago, I believed that the primary purpose of language was to encode propositional content, and I was definitely a peevologist. Becoming a linguistics student three years ago at the age of 59 opened my ears and rid me of that belief, and has partly (though not wholly) rid me of my peevology. Our first pragmatics lecture was a revelation to me.

  23. Doreen said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 11:21 am

    The inorite netspeak spelling seems closely related to amirite, a tag question asking for agreement. In fact, I've seen the former used as a response to the latter on discussion forums and blogs.

    KTHNXBYE

  24. Jen O said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 11:44 am

    I'm 34, and I'm pretty sure I've occasionally used this phrase, though it's certainly not something that pops up all that often. To me, it's just shorthand for saying, more or less, 'yes, that's ~exactly~ how i felt about it, and the fact that we agree really says something about the situation and our reactions' or 'it validates/reinforces my feelings to hear that we're on the same page about this'

  25. Luke said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 11:47 am

    I'm 20 and this is in very common use. One thing that I think has played a part in its development that Rebecca and Mr Fnortner hinted at here is the use of "Right?" as an expression of agreement rather than uncertainty. These exchanges are even more common than those involving "I know, right?":

    "That's awesome!"
    "Right?"

    Here the idea is "I think so too," possibly with a tinge of "I knew/I was hoping/I'm glad you agree with me" or even "I told you it would be," but really no trace of "I wasn't sure you'd agree."

  26. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

    although in textual terms, I'm much more likely to use the facetious spelling "inorite?" (sometimes in all caps) than the initialism "ikr"

    Oh, that's what 'inorite' means! I've been reading it as INNoRITE (with the o as a schwa) and wondering where on earth it can come from.

  27. Amy Stoller said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

    Re: We can't idiomatically substitute "I know, really, isn't it?"

    I think we may be able to use "isn't it?" – or, rather, "innit?" – this way if we speak Multicultural London English (MLE).

  28. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

    Is there something in common between this and certain instances of the yeah no construction discussed on here several times before?

    In both cases an affirmative phrase followed by a (seeming) equivocation apparently results in affirmation with an added sense of complicity between the speakers.

  29. Kelly said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

    I'm 28, roughly in the middle of my social circle's age range, and this expression is ubiquitous and unambiguous. We are all tech-savvy and quick to pick up Internet "memes," so it's possible we're above the usual age range for this.

    It is generally, as laid out in the post, a simple indication of agreement, akin to "Yes, isn't it?" or "You can say that again!" (The latter, incidentally, has been the set-up for so many jokes in sitcoms and cartoons that I never hear anybody my age say it anymore. Perhaps we needed a replacement phrase?)

    I have, however, heard it said in an exasperated tone to express that same agreement, with an added layer of frustration with a third party or situation. The listener has grasped the issue immediately, yet the speaker was forced to endure the situation despite the issue being so obvious; the meaning here is more like "That's what I said earlier!"

    A: He's obviously angry, but he won't say why.
    B: That doesn't sound like a very good way to get what he wants.
    A: I KNOW RIGHT?

    I have regularly seen that all-caps, no comma spelling used in text messages and the like (often with more terminal punctuation for emphasis) to distinguish this use from the more passive, "I know, right?" or "i know, right?" nobody I know types it "i no rite", but we do send unusually punctuated, unabbreviated texts.

    Thanks for the post! I didn't realize there was any confusion or disagreement about the meaning of this phrase. Gives me a taste of my future, I suppose.

  30. Tamara said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

    I am 32, Southern Californian born and bred, and I say this. I didn't realize anyone thought it was odd. I also say, "I know, huh?" and "Yeah, huh?" with the same meaning.

  31. Russell said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

    Calling it just "agreement" is probably a bit narrow. One of the urban dictionary entries has it closer with "An affirmation that you agree with or can relate to the preceding statement."

    Here's one example I pulled from the Fisher corpus.

    B: so it takes care if itself i don't know
    B: i don't have much to say about this topic
    A: i know right
    A: i don't talk that much as it is so th- they picked a har- they gave us a hard topic to ah talk on
    B: yeah well th- i mean when they first tell you what the topic is they only give you one word so

    It'd be interesting to look at the turn(s) immediately following IKR to see if they look like turn(s) following other sorts of tag questions and confirmation requests.

    And finally: people have been dealing with a very similar issue in Japanese: the combination of sentence-final yo and ne. The former indexes assertiveness, the latter looks for confirmation. There's basically a split between those who want to understand it compositionally, and those who say that you just have a multi-word particle, yo-ne, with its own meaning.

  32. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

    In northern New Mexico, this has been "I know, huh" or "Oh yeah, huh" at least since I moved to my present home in 1994. I haven't noticed the version with "right".

    @Wm Annis: Not all peeving comes from the belief that the purpose of language is encoding propositional content—mine doesn't [*]—but the most dedicated peever I cyber-know maintains that belief strongly.

    [*] "Pushing its way" doesn't need an apostrophe.

  33. Beth said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

    I started saying this in high school in the mid to late Eighties and I still use it today (I'm 41). I was always amazed at how the people who gave me the most guff about it were the ones who picked it up the fastest, seemingly against their will.

    I've always used it (and heard it used) in the mutually affirmative sense that Mr. Liberman describes.

    I'm not sure where I picked it up from–certainly not Mean Girls, (although perhaps that was part of a revival?)–but I wonder if we might find the phrase in teen movies of the Eighties, such as John Hughes' fare.

  34. Abby-wan Kenobi said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

    In my experience (and frequent usage) "I know, right?!" indicates a certain in-crowd meaning along the lines of "Here's a fact that has a lot of contextual meaning which we both understand and we can both easily evaluate the full impact of this information." There's also a level of dry humor in the phrase. It comes across as light or humorous.

    Usually I'd use IKR?! in an 'us versus them' situation, just like it's used in the comic. That certainly plays well with the idea that the phrase is more common with teens. Although, as a 26-yr-old I'm more likely to use it talking to a coworker about my boss.

  35. Shmuel said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

    Another relevant citation, supporting the "mutual agreement" sense:

    http://syacartoonist.com/history-lessons

  36. John Cowan said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

    First of all, I use this, and I'm 53. Yay me.

    For me, the "I know" is propositional, the "right?" is emotional. So it says "I know. Isn't it great/awful?" (I'm not old enough to write "swell/lousy" in that sentence.) The equivalent tag question is going to be negative in form, since it plainly expects a positive/confirming response, perhaps even an enlargement like "It's a moby win/lose".

  37. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

    @ Amy –

    That's right, though (as far as I know):

    isn't it? = 1st generation subcontinental dialects
    innit? = MLE, Cockney, lots of northern dialects

    And it's much more natural, at least to my ear, without the really: just I know, innit?

    Traditional Cockney (and, back in the day, upper-class) ain't it doesn't have the same semantic range – I think it requires a proper antecedent for the it.

    Plus there's also is it? in subcontinental dialects and some versions of MLE, which can be offered as a rejoinder to a very large range of statements:

    A: I'm grounded for two weeks, innit.
    B: Is it?
    A: Plus, they took my phone away.
    B: Is it?
    A: Yeah, they pure cold, my mum and dad.
    B: Is it?

  38. John said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

    I think a lot of the anger around terminal "Right?" comes from contexts in which it is used as a way of assuming your interlocutor's agreement, pre-empting a disagreement, or of hoping that you are correct, and not in an analogous way to IKR.

    For example: "That's Kubrick's best movie, right?" (="This is my opinion, and I expect you agree, and I really don't want to argue about it.") The social function of this is indeed to generate an overall sense of solidarity, or to make one feel a part of the group, even if that group includes only one other person.

    "You wanted me to put that sauce on high, right?" (="Please tell me I didn't make a mistake when I put the sauce on high.") This kind of "right" could simply have been avoided by asking the question you were really asking: "Did you want me to put that sauce on high (because I did)?" Again, agreement is sought, but perhaps more as an affirmation of what one has already committed to.

  39. Ralph Hickok said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

    I was hearing younger co-workers (early 20s) saying "I know, huh?" while working at a job I left in 1997. I strongly suspect that morphed into "I know, right?" somewhere along the line. My children (ages 24 to 33) and their friends use that phrase all the time. Those co-workers of whom I speak would be in their early to mid-thirties now and I wouldn't be surprised to know that they've moved on to the newer form.

  40. Chandra said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 1:46 pm

    The way people use this phrase reminds me a lot of a phrase I picked up from a Jamaican friend in high school: "You know?"

    Me: This class sucks.
    Friend: You know?

    I lived in Arizona at the time and I can't remember if I heard anyone other than her (and the people who were friends with her) use it, but I definitely haven't heard it anywhere else.

  41. JHarr said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

    I have, however, heard it said in an exasperated tone to express that same agreement, with an added layer of frustration with a third party or situation.

    Exactly.

  42. Ibn Toumart said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

    As a member of the 25-and-under crowd, I can confirm that the spike in usage among my peers of "I know, right?" was correlated with the release of "Mean Girls." Additionally, and anecdotally, non-ironic use of the phrase is generally limited to airheads and Californians (and is often accompanied by one or more "OMG".)

    Far more frequent, in my experience, is the facetious usage, particularly when rendered as "inorite". For instance (and this is seen particularly in chat/video games), you can use "inorite" to mock a statement you think is ridiculous or to to agree in hipsterish-ironic fashion; assent, while distancing yourself from your assent.

  43. GeorgeW said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

    One reason for a +30 negative reaction may be the resemblance to a tag question, but without reverse polarity. Examples:

    1. I know, don't I?
    2. I don't know, do I?
    3. *I know, do I
    4. ?I know, right?

  44. john riemann soong said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

    this usage is so natural and idiomatic to me. And I was an immigrant who arrived in the US in 1995 (and my American English didn't kick in until 1998.) It's curious to see adults argue about it.

  45. chris said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

    It's pretty obvious that a phrase like "I know, right" both expresses and solicits sympathy and solidarity. To reinterpret it as encoding a proposition is positively perverse.

    Right on!

    Now, you *could* try to rewrite an utterance like "right on" as a proposition (approximately, "I agree with what you just said"), but it would be needlessly clunky and seems somehow point-missing anyway.

    (On the other hand, texting while driving is actually very dangerous and I would have taken his *car* away for two weeks — at least — never mind his phone. But I'm not a parent.)

  46. Mark Mandel said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

    @Mr Fnortner (10:06am): I had the same reaction and reading of the phrase here, only you expressed it a lot more clearly than I was going to.

  47. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

    @ George W

    Clever idea, but I suspect not, since right? follows countless other positive clauses without apparently causing irritation.

  48. Mary Apodaca said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

    How about "I know; you know?

  49. blahedo said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

    I'm 33 and use it, but have a clear memory of when I first started noticing it and using it—probably around 2005, definitely no earlier than 2003. (Which is not to say it was brand-new then, of course, just that that's when it first registered.)

  50. Jenny said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

    I was in a conversation with someone who said, "I know, right?" almost as a verbal tic. It was the first time I had talked to someone who used that phrase, and so I politely answered "Yes" every time. I found out later you aren't supposed to do that.

    My favorite use of it is in strip 723 of the webcomic Order of the Stick, by Rich Burlew. A Darth Vader equivalent character uses it, and the juxtaposition is pretty funny. (http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots.html. If you don't want spoilers, start at the beginning.)

  51. Shingo said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

    I'm 24 and I almost always use it ironically, but sometimes I use it seriously. I don't see anything wrong with the phrase. If it wasn't made fun of so much, I would use it all the time. It is a *lot* more comfortable and general than "Yes, isn't it?" anyway.

  52. Rod Johnson said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

    I use this (spelled "inorite?") and I'm even older than John Cowan (!). It's interesting to me how innovations of younger people spread ageward through the population.

  53. Kim Witten said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

    Oh, fun! I wrote a linguistics squib in 2009 titled, "An academic paper about upgrading agreement, with a matching side of disbelief. I know, right?" I argued that the phrase 'I know, right?' allows the speaker to take a social stance aligned with the immediately preceding proposition (even if it's the speaker's own proposition), while also providing an upgraded response that implies a sense of disbelief. I also separated the phrase from other, similar sequences of 'know' and 'right' appearing in speech, demonstrating that 'I know, right?' is an indivisible syntactic and pragmatic unit of discourse, distinct from the previous forms.

    Using various examples in both speech and text corpora, I showed that an additional feature of 'I know, right?' is that it is highly fixed, in that it cannot undergo changes in tense, aspect, pronomial reference, or intonation patterns that would typically signal an additional interpretation or alternate meaning.

    And here's a bit about the necessary 'fusing' of the 'I know' and 'right' constituents:

    Could 'right' be derived from its tag question use, as in example 5, below?

    Ex. 5 “You made all those copies for me, right?”

    In this case, 'right?' serves to open the floor for clarification about the immediately previous proposition. The form for this use is coherent with the form found in the target phrase – the end of a sentence, with rising intonation, or a question mark when appearing in text. However, this interpretation presents a problem, in that it cannot serve its tag question function of clarification-seeking if the proposition it immediately follows is I know, since a speaker would not ask another interlocutor to clarify whether or not they do indeed know something that they just stated that they know. I argue that it is this very contradiction that is the binding agent between 'I know' and 'right?' in the target phrase 'I know, right?' It allows the two constituents to function together, and forces the clarification-seeking to have scope over the new previous proposition (and not over 'I know', which is now bound to the tag constituent). This interpretation also makes sense when we consider instances of 'I know, right?' appearing embedded in a chunk of narrative given by a single speaker. A literal interpretation would force us to conclude that the speaker is incoherent and having an argumentative dialogue with him or herself. Since we know this not to be true in most cases, a new interpretation must be forged.

    I'm a California native and I wrote this paper after just being tormented by this phrase everywhere I went! Funnily enough, it had seemed to die down a bit in the last year (in my local speech community), but I moved to North Yorkshire 6 months ago and holy cow, I hear that phrase here everywhere, all the time, by people of all ages! Go figure.

    (sorry for the horrendously long comment.)

  54. kid said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

    I'm 21 and I probably do say this. I don't consider it a totally mundane phras. It is kind of sassy and not a way I'd affirm something my boss or professor had just said.

    Also, I'm American, but this post overall reminds me of "innit."

  55. Chris Waters said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

    To this 50yo Californian, it seems perfectly natural and not particularly youth-oriented, though it does seem like there's a been resurgence of the phrase recently. To me, it seems older than "hella", which is also part of my idiolect, but that may be because I noticed how odd "hella" was when it entered my vocabulary, but I never noticed that "I know, right?" was odd until…well, until I read this article.

    I tend to doubt that "Mean Girls" introduced it to California, but I could easily believe that the movie helped spread it further.

    As for meaning, now that I stop to think about it, it seems to be similar to "I'm glad you agree with me." For example, if I overheard: "These potstickers are hella tasty!" "I know, right?", I'd be left with the impression that the second speaker may have been the one who recommended the restaurant in the first place.

  56. J. Goard said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

    Or in Agatha Christie's 1959 crime novel The Cat Among the Pigeons

    It's just Cat Among the Pigeons, as the idiom would tend to be indefinite.

  57. kenny said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:38 pm

    I am 23 and I register my agreement with all of the nuances of meaning offered by those commenters above who also claim to be in their 20s. That is all.

  58. J. Goard said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

    Checking down the Google hits, once you get past all the meta-, it seems like a fair number of examples are used by the same speaker, expressing the noteworthiness of a novel referent, with the predicate (awesomeness, craziness, stupidity, cuteness) often tacit:

    Bizzy Bone (i know right) speakin real talk on obama

    ilx user plaxico (i know, right?) goes on at length abt contemporary art that he has a boner

    This Is “Hobie” From 'Baywatch'. I Know, Right?

    [below a cute picture] baby platypuses. I know, right? JEEZ.

  59. dgroseph said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 10:05 pm

    >> "Charlotte and Beatrice are "mirroring" feelings back and forth. In this context, the question "isn't it?" is an invitation to continue the process, and it therefore intensifies the shared evaluation rather than attenuating it."

    I agree with the above interpretation in this context, and I have found an interesting extension into another. A mathematics teacher/friend of mine was giving instruction at a local high school in proof-writing. When introduced with the concept of explicitly marking the completion of their proofs with "QED", students quickly employed the replacement with "IKR".

    What is interesting here, is that it nicely packages a mathematical proof as a nugget in an ages old conversation, where development and progress is mirrored by all of its participants. It also, by employing a meaning of "I know, right?" from this mirroring context, could coax the reader of the proof into a more arbitrary sense of agreement with the proof-writer's interpretation, which is humorous when remembering that these are homework assignments and they are of a topic that deals with explicitly verifiable truths.

  60. m.m. said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 11:43 pm

    R said,
    March 29, 2011 @ 10:16 am
    I've always maintained "I know, right?" was popularized by Mean Girls (2004). If the age you cite (25) is on track, this movie was big with people in that age group as they were graduating high school.

    Interesting, I remember watching the movie [wow, 04 was years ago, I'd of been like 16 x_x] and I don't recall the phrase sticking out to me.

    Cady: "Wow your house is really nice." Regina: "I know, right?"
    Regina: She's so pathetic. Let me tell you something about Janis Ian. We were best friends in middle school. I know, right? It's so embarrassing.

    I more or less regarded 'I know, right?' or the similar 'I know, huh?' [I know, eh?] as valspeak, which feels like it's been in use here in southern california since like, forever, right? Which makes me want to pick at it being a recency illusion situation.

    Oddly, IKR in urban dictioanry comes early in Jun 21, 2004, I know, right? has one in Dec 2, 2003. Meangirls came out in april of 04.

    kenny said,
    March 29, 2011 @ 9:38 pm
    I am 23 and I register my agreement with all of the nuances of meaning offered by those commenters above who also claim to be in their 20s. That is all.

    that too haha

  61. Vanillagrrl said,

    March 29, 2011 @ 11:57 pm

    In my late 40s, I find "I know, right?" a useful exclamation of conversational agreement. I employ this locution where I used to say, "Who knew?" or, "I know!" (a habit of mine that even irks me; the addition of the "right?" softens the "I know" in my mind).

  62. hjordis said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 12:05 am

    I use it, but almost exclusively in the shortened form that excludes the "I know" part. I wonder whether the people who have a problem with the full form also dislike the shortened one…

  63. Kim Witten said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 3:17 am

    Somebody should ask Tina Fey in the next interview where she heard or came up with Regina using IKR (Tina Fey wrote Mean Girls). I'm dying to know what the deal was there.

    The house comment from the movie…I feel that in a traditional upgrade response, a phrase like “Wow. Your house is really nice,” would be met with a something like “My house is sooo nice,” including an exaggerated intonation pattern consistent with a stance of positive evaluation and approval. But since this is Regina’s response to her own house, a response like that would be perceived as blatantly bragging. IKR allows Regina to be agreeable with Cady, to provide an upgrade, and to minimize the self-indulgence of her evaluation (a little bit – achieved through the implied sense of surprise that the phrase conveys). The interpretations are off-record, which I think further lessens the overt obnoxiousness of complimenting oneself or bragging about one’s own possessions.

    I get the feeling lately that IKR has taken on an ironic stance in some circles too. As if people have associated IKR with particular identities and are mock 'taking on' those identities, in a playful and not altogether conscious (but sometimes) way. Kind of like how certain memes have their own meta-layer of irony that is communicated just by the fact of contrast between the person we know who is using the phrase and what we know about the type of person who would use the phrase. As if the IKR person is indexing that, to further their cause or disbelief in whatever it is their IKRing about.

  64. Kim Witten said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 3:18 am

    ack, their = they're.

  65. Margaret L said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 7:13 am

    What about "huh"? I'm 46, Californian most of my life, and I don't say "I know, right" but I do say "I know, huh."

  66. Frans said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 8:10 am

    @R:

    I've always maintained "I know, right?" was popularized by Mean Girls (2004). If the age you cite (25) is on track, this movie was big with people in that age group as they were graduating high school.

    If you're going to "blame" movies, Clueless (1995) seems a far better candidate.

  67. Rebecca said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 8:17 am

    I'm not a very sophisticated corpus-searcher, but from Google ngrams it looks like this was on the rise before the release of Mean Girls.

    [(myl) As often with ngrams, it's hard to interpret the results, because only a (small) minority of the hits are instances of the phrase in question. Thus on the first page of the hits for 2007, there are two instances of "I know, right?", and 8 instances of "I know right now ...", "I know right away ...", "I know right then and there...", "I know right from wrong", etc.

    This helps us to make our peace with the fact that if we extend the plot back to 1900 and look just at American books, we see what looks like a very different pattern... ]

  68. Wm Annis said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 9:20 am

    @hjordis

    I won't peeve on this shortened form, but it's still odd enough to be attention-getting for me. So much so that I can say with confidence that my coworker only started using it in the last 6 months.

  69. Mark Dunan said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    I'm over 30 and remember saying this while in high school and college in the 1990s.

    I remember hearing it from a Jaanese girl who had moved to the US as a teenager and being impressed that she had picked up a slangy phrase like this one.

    This was in the northeast US, BTW.

  70. Mark F said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    To me (age 45) it seemed completely natural in context, but I had no idea it had become recognized as a fixed expression.

  71. Matt Mc said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 11:23 am

    I find it helpful to imagine the "I know" to be a shorthand for "we have a shared mental state about this" with the "right?" addition requesting affirmation for this. The vagueness of the "I know" (what do you know?) make the affirmation logically bereft of meaning, but is simply a pleasantry meant to establish a connection between people via a shared idea. The phrase, "Am I thinking what you're thinking?" comes to mind here as a less strong expression of the fundamental act of communication

  72. Nicholas Waller said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

    I hadn't really noticed this IKR expression before, but got a good example of it this evening when seeing a trailer for The Green Lantern at a cinema. I am not up on that world, but human Hal Jordan demonstrates his new superhero status by suddenly turning into the Green Lantern, skin-tight costume and all, in front of a colleague/friend.

    COLLEAGUE/FRIEND: Wow!

    JORDAN-LANTERN : I know, right?

  73. Kiye said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 7:52 am

    "We can't idiomatically substitute "I know, really, isn't it?"

    Um… unless you are British, then you do this all the time.

    person1: "I love peaches!"
    person 2: "I know, id'nit?"

    Have you people never heard this?

    Also, conversationally, we shouldn't forget the whole call/response aspect of this phrase. Can I get an amen?

  74. JimG said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 8:50 am

    I support the interpretation that the addition of "Right?" is affiliative behavior. My impression is that this thing is easily 50+ years old, although I can't cite a specific. There's a sense of Jeremy admitting or accepting his pal's proposition and adding "Right?" as a way of communicating something like, "Yes, I was (wrong). You're correct, but we don't need to belabor the obvious and embarrass me further, given that we're agreed on how dumb I was."

    Does anyone else see anything parallel to the use of "Yeah? Right!" as an expression of disbelief?

  75. Eric S said,

    April 1, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

    Wanted to throw in a data point plus a little semantic/pragmatic pondering.

    My (male, from Boston area) friend and I are 28 and 30. He will often say "Right?" as a short form of "I know, right?" when I introduce a new observation.

    These days, his utterance is always "Right?" and never "I know, right?" This same person (and others from this group of friends) used to say "I know, right?" about 8 years ago or so and have since then dropped the "I know".

    I think there is some mutual implicit agreement that a properly intoned "Right?" is a contraction of "I know, right?"

    I gloss it in these cases as 'I agree with your claim even though I realize you are not offering hard evidence; in fact I have already had a similar thought myself'.

    The utterance creates a small impulse in me to re-examine whatever evidence I was using to support my claim, and to further acknowledge that even after re-examination I still believe the claim.

    "Right?" in my experience is almost always used when the matter under discussion is not one of hard physical evidence. Rather, the matter is usually one of opinion or induction from hard evidence. The speakers are executing some joint action to reach a mutual conclusion based on whatever evidence is available.

    Therefore the following is impossible if we assume there is no larger context:

    Eric: I'm six feet tall.
    Bob: *Right?

    In this example, Eric is stating a simple, hard fact. The speakers aren't trying to reach a mutual opinion or inductive conclusion.

    But the following is possible:

    Bob: Larry's last email said you'd only come up to his belly button.
    Eric: I don't think that's possible.
    Bob: Yeah…
    Eric: I mean, I'm six feet tall.
    Bob: Right?

    Here the speakers are trying to reach a mutual opinion about Larry's claim. Eric's first sentence is a suggestion that they should disagree with Larry. Bob gives partial acknowledgment but doesn't fully yield the floor. Eric supports the suggestion by offering some evidence. Bob asserts that he agrees with the claim and also that he believes Eric's evidence is good support for the claim.

    But neither one of them has hard evidence that Larry is wrong.

    My $.02.

  76. m.m. said,

    April 2, 2011 @ 1:06 am

    Margaret L said,
    March 30, 2011 @ 7:13 am
    What about "huh"? I'm 46, Californian most of my life, and I don't say "I know, right" but I do say "I know, huh."

    I mentioned "I know, huh." earlier. But that's 'seems' to be falling into disuse from my experience.

  77. Randal said,

    April 3, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

    I think Zoolander from 2001 popularized this phrase with my age group (early 30s) more so than Mean Girls. It kicks off one of the classic quotable dialogues:

    Rufus: Ughh, I can’t stand Hansel!
    Meekus: I know, right? Riding in on that scooter like he’s so cool.
    Rufus: And the way Hansel combs his hair…
    Meekus: Or, like, doesn't. It’s like, ‘Exsqueeze me, but have you ever heard of styling gel?’
    Brint: I’m sure Hansel’s heard of styling gel. He’s a male model.
    Meekus: Earth to Brint. I was making a joke.
    Brint: Earth to Meekus. Duh, okay? I knew that.
    Meekus: Earth to Brint. I’m not so sure you did, ’cause you were all, ‘I’m sure he’s heard of styling gel,’ like you didn't know it was a joke! Haha, eh?
    Brint: I knew it was a joke, Meekus. I just didn't get it right away.
    - Randal

  78. Randal said,

    April 3, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

    I prefer "I know, right?" even though I grew up with "I know, huh."

    "I know, right?" has the advantage of incorporating and softening the (otherwise truly annoying) crutch of intoning statements as questions? To keep the conversation from accidentally ending? Prematurely?

    I suspect that's a major driver of the phrase's popularity.

    - Randal

  79. Terry Collmann said,

    April 4, 2011 @ 6:46 am

    Thank you, Language Log, this entry alone has been worth every penny of my subscription, since it made me aware enough of the phrase to catch my daughter (aged 12, London English) saying "I know, right?" last night when I remarked that something that had happened to her at school did not make sense. She couldn't tell me exactly which TV programme she had picked it up from, but apparently it's thriving among the pre-teens of the London Borough of Richmond.

  80. Paul McCann said,

    April 4, 2011 @ 10:22 am

    As mentioned earlier, this does happen often in Japanese with the sentence particles "yo" (for assertions) and "ne" ("isn't it?") – check these sentences from a parallel-language corpus for a lot of examples, many ending in "isn't it?" or similar in their English versions.

    http://jisho.org/sentences?jap=yone&page=4&eng=

  81. LQ said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

    It seems very parallel to "deshou" or "deshou ne" in Japanese, which I think could be used in this exact same situation.

  82. Setsuka said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 11:37 pm

    Since others have already talked about Japanese "ne", "deshou (ne)", etc., I suppose I'll leave that be.

    However:

    In my dialect (New Mexican English), a common form of IKR is "I know, huh?". In this context, "huh" is said more like "ha" (as in "Ha ha ha"). This is used in every age group I can think of*, although it's usually used by 25-and-unders.

    Older and younger generations alike will often say "huh" at the end of a sentence, though. Eg., "He's running for president, huh?" Unlike IKH, this usage of "huh" is a way of asking for clarification. It's like saying, "I heard he's running for president– is it true?" Instead of saying "Yeah," as a response, people will usually say something like, "He is!" with lots of emphasis on "is". Sometimes people will say "You know, he is!", but it depends on the person.

    In both uses of the word, "huh" is said like a statement, without a rising tone. Both genders use IKH, but women and girls are slightly more likely to use the second one. (It's still used more or less equally between genders, though.)

    *With the exception of those who cannot talk.

  83. Katje said,

    April 17, 2011 @ 8:13 am

    The first time I encountered this usage of "I know, right?" was when I was an undergrad and befriended a Brooklyn native who used it all the time. This was in 1987. I moved to Brooklyn (from Philadelphia) myself upon graduating 1989, and used to encounter the phrase coming from other NYC natives. I'd assumed it was a regionalism. I have noticed that the usage has become more common outside of the NYC metro area, maybe because of the internet. I recall being a little surprised to see it used in an online forum from someone who is not a New Yorker. (I myself did pick up the usage and have continued to use it outside of the NYC region.)

  84. Maybe I should learn about « School for Linguists said,

    November 9, 2011 @ 10:47 am

    [...] Somehow I've never read anything by John Gumperz. I know, right? [...]

  85. Canadian Boy said,

    April 8, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

    I can't find the footage, but I'm almost certain the origin of "I know right" dates back to the 80's to Rosey Perez. I can hear her saying that as well as other hispanic girls from that time.

    Anyone dare to challenge that?

  86. LizzT said,

    December 4, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

    This phrase irritates me. I'm 34. I heard a patient (at least 10 yrs older than myself) use the phrase no less than 3 time in a row! I felt the intense need to plead with her to stop. It felt like she was trying hard to be "cool". While I understand the underlying sentiment, I wish it would fade away for good.

  87. I Know, Right? How A Current Trendy Phrase Is Used Incorrectly said,

    April 14, 2014 @ 9:23 am

    […] In a blog post on Language Log, they offer the following: […]

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