Looming epidemic of total inability to even?

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"Millennial Diagnosed With Tragic Inability To Even", Babylon Bee 9/30/2016:

BOTHELL, WA—According to reports, local 22-year-old Chloe Kowalski’s world was torn apart Thursday morning, as the millennial barista was diagnosed with a rare disease that prevents her from having the ability to even. […]

“We’ve never seen a case quite like this before,” Dr. Elizabeth Eden told reporters gathered outside the clinic where Kowalski’s devastating diagnosis was handed down. “Many millennials will experience short bouts of not being able to even for several seconds, often triggered by a cute video of a cat or other small animal, or perhaps something online that’s ‘so relatable.'”

“But Kowalski—she just can’t even. She may never even again, at least not without assistance,” she said, shaking her head grimly, according to reporters.

Some relevant background:

"What does 'even' even mean?", 2/8/2011
"Bob Dylan can't even", 12/29/2015
"Mark Sanford can't even", 2/15/2016
"Amberella can't even", 8/11/2016

[h/t RichG]



  1. bratschegirl said,

    September 28, 2017 @ 1:09 pm

    I couldn't even the day I was on my way to send hundreds of pages of supporting documentation to the IRS in defense of an audit, and received notice from them that we would be audited for all the same categories for the subsequent tax year.

    We won both, btw.

  2. Keith said,

    September 28, 2017 @ 1:12 pm

    The Babylon Bee turns out to be quite an entertaining little wag.

    Here's the BaBee's interpretation of "taking a knee":


    [(myl) Indeed. Plus there's "Joel Osteen Launches Line Of Pastoral Wear: ‘Sheep’s Clothing’", "Local Woman Hospitalized After Pumpkin Spice Overdose", "The Bee Explains: Calvinism Vs. Arminianism", etc.

    Who knew that there's a Christian version of The Onion?]

  3. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 28, 2017 @ 1:54 pm

    This morning I finally found out about this evening.

    Keith: Is a wag a waggish rag?

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 28, 2017 @ 4:09 pm

    Due to the sad factional divisions of Christianity there have been multiple rival Christian versions of The Onion for some time, of varying quality and longevity. The Babylon Bee has a more evangelical orientation but there's also e.g. Eye of the Tiber (Roman Catholic) and the longstanding (founded 2002 but not in recent years updated all that frequently with new content, alas) The Onion Dome (Russian Orthodox, as should be obvious).

    [(myl) Thanks for this additional enlightenment. I especially like "ICEL Calls For All-Meme Missal Translation For Youth Masses".]

  5. Rebecca Root said,

    September 28, 2017 @ 10:00 pm

    I've been aware of the Babylon Bee for a few years now, ever since a church musician friend started facebook-sharing their hilarious skewerings of church praise bands. I'm always pleased to see self-deprecation alive and well, especially in a corner I know very little about.

  6. tangent said,

    September 28, 2017 @ 11:55 pm

    9/30/2016, that is. Thought I had heard this before.

  7. Keith said,

    September 29, 2017 @ 2:27 am

    Jerry, I had intended it to be a "webrag". Using the model of "weblog" => "blog" would have led to "brag", which wouldn't work.

    But your interpretation of "waggish rag" is nice, too.

    This whole "can't even" has puzzled me since I first learnt of it.

    I'm starting to imagine one of these "millenials" starting out on a phrase "I can't even …" and just floundering at the end pf the phrase, unable to produce a word to express the emotion being felt.

  8. Terror Incognita said,

    September 29, 2017 @ 7:48 am

    @Keith – I think that's exactly the implication behind the phrase!

  9. Robert Coren said,

    September 29, 2017 @ 9:41 am

    The use of "wag" reminded me that, since I read Robert McCloskey's Experiment 13 as a child, I have taken to habitually echoing the Sheriff of Centerburg and referring to a certain all-too-common allergenic plant as "wagreed".

  10. AntC said,

    September 29, 2017 @ 7:51 pm

    [today's zits](http://zitscomics.com/comics/september-29-2017/) manages to combine 'not … even' with 'a thing', and teenagers of course.

    "I'm not sure 'normal teenage behaviour' is even a thing."

  11. Craig Schiller said,

    September 30, 2017 @ 8:31 am

    @ Keith and Terra Incognita – Yes, that's the point. What people who use this phrase are trying to say is that they're so gobsmacked that they can't even figure out a word to express what they can't even do.

    There's also been an internet meme expressing the concept as "I have lost the ability to even", as well as one that took it the next step to "I have lost the ability to can".

  12. Ben Zimmer said,

    September 30, 2017 @ 9:40 am

    For further enlightenment, I'd recommend Gretchen McCulloch's 2015 Mental Floss piece, "Why Is It That You 'Can't Even' But You Never Find That You 'Can Even'?" (which I linked to in my "Bob Dylan can't even" post). Gretchen characterizes the use of can and even here as "stylized verbal incoherence mirroring emotional incoherence."

  13. Andrew Usher said,

    September 30, 2017 @ 1:06 pm

    That last conclusion is no doubt true, but I have read the linked article by Ms. McCulloch and find it strange that she apparently does not notice that the extended uses of 'can' and 'even' she notes are likely not entirely serious, which is a better explanation for why her first set of examples, but not the second, is in use. It may not be too much of a stretch to make 'can' into a full verb, as it once was with a similar meaning; but as for 'even' its verbness is confined to the phrase "can't even" and extensions of it. If that ever passes from slang into a grammatical part of English (and it well may, the acceptability of the past "couldn't even" might be a test) 'even' would be a particle as it is now, not a verb, unless it had acquired more general use as such, which I can't see likely: for one, 'even' is already a verb with meaning related to and derived from the adverb, making it even less likely it would acquire a different meaning abstracted from one phrase containing it.

    Further, earlier in the piece, she makes a simple mistake in calling 'even' an NPI. While her example do show 'ever' and 'any' as NPIs (a way to remember that is that NPIs generally have positive counterparts, here 'never' and 'no'/'none'), that with 'even' is plain wrong and an oversight. For not only is 'she even goes here' grammatical, it's the simplest and most obvious way of expressing that idea, and 'even' means pretty much the same as in the negative:

    'She even goes here' = Not only does she X Y and Z, she goes here, too.
    'She doesn't even go here' = Not only does she not X Y or Z, she doesn't go here, either.
    (And this shows 'either' in that sense _is_ an NPI, with positive counterpart 'too'.) – where X Y Z are whatever is understood. 'Even' is clearly a non-polarity item.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  14. Emily said,

    October 1, 2017 @ 9:46 am

    There's also variants on "I can't" without the even, such as "I have lost my ability to can." Which eventually gave rise to jokes about a beautiful and elusive tropical bird, the "Ability Toucan."

  15. Keith said,

    October 2, 2017 @ 4:24 am

    That reminds me of a slogan from the period when an image of a toucan was used for advertising Guinness: "what one can do, toucan do better".

  16. Jason M said,

    October 2, 2017 @ 11:45 pm

    I wonder often why native Chinese speakers, or Mandarin speakers at least, find "even" even stronger than millenials. I mean, they tend to use "even" alone to mean "even if" or "even though". eg "I won't eat even I am hungry." I wonder why it sounds so odd to my ears even the "though" doesn't carry much meaning. So even I want to correct them, I can't even.

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