Quoth the maven…

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From Jeff DeMarco:

Don't know if you saw this, but it seems appropriate. I don't seem to be able to access the original, though. This one is from a Facebook posting.

It seems to come from here, though I didn't find the original.

It's ironic that the iconography remains in "quoth" territory, or not far from it: academic cap and gown, ruler (for rapping students' knuckles), chalk board, …


  1. Sam said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 6:13 am

    When logic and proportion
    Have fallen sloppy dead
    And the White Knight is talking backwards
    And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"
    Remember what the dormouse was like

  2. Ferenc said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 6:38 am

    This may be the original, from 2009: http://www.funnytimes.com/playground/cartoon.php?id=13427

  3. Victor Mair said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 6:45 am

    I have spent so much time out of the country that I often come back when one of these changes is already deeply entrenched, so I barely get to see it in process of development. When I do begin to notice such a striking change, I'm usually dumbfounded as to how and why it took place. In this case, I'm really curious about how to account for the shift from quotative "said" to quotative "was like". Who or what started it?

    [(myl) I don't know the early history, but you're going to have to look back a few decades. See e.g. "I'm like, all into this stuff", 11/15/2004; the Stanford Humanities Lab "Changing All" project from 2004; Sali Tagliamonte and Rachel Hudson. "Be like et al. beyond America: The quotative system in British and Canadian youth", Journal of Sociolinguistics 1999; Carl Blyth, Jr., Sigrid Recktenwald and Jenny Wang, "I'm like, 'Say What?!': A New Quotative in American Oral Narrative", American Speech, Autumn, 1990.

    Here's a table from the 1990 Blyth et al. paper, showing that 23 years ago, 2/3 of 20-somethings at Cornell were using "be like" in short oral narratives:


  4. Lazar said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 7:06 am

    There's an interesting quotative usage which I think is more common among older people: "He says to me, he says, [quote]." Does anybody know much about that one?

    And then there's "to be all", which could be considered a more extreme or emphatic evolution of "to be like" (with an intermediate stage "to be all like").

  5. Dave K said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 7:10 am

    I think it started in situations where the speaker was mimicking someone else's speech. "He was like 'Well, if I make an exception for you, I have to make an exception for everyone', you know the way he does." It's expanded into other situations–maybe because it's considered more dramatic–but I still hear "said" a lot.

    I'm not at all clear on when to use "was like" and when to use "was all", though.

  6. Stephen Chrisomalis said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 7:20 am

    Check out Alexandra D'Arcy's 2007 article, 'Like and language ideology: disentangling fact from fiction', American Speech 82(4): 386-419 for a nice, empirically-grounded study of the myth and reality of 'like'.


  7. Lazar said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 7:24 am

    @Dave K: I think "was all" conveys a sense of surprise, exasperation or resentment – the idea that the following quotation is unusual, shocking or unreasonable. I don't use it myself, except in a facetious way.

  8. Tim said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 7:37 am

    I would submit a two-step process: first, the verb 'to be,' primarily in the past tense, replaced 'said'; and then, 'like' was added. The second step, if I may hazard a guess, was an incidental side effect of 'like' becoming a place holder in then vein of 'uh' and 'um.'

  9. Rohan F said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 7:53 am

    There's an interesting quotative usage which I think is more common among older people: "He says to me, he says, [quote]." Does anybody know much about that one?

    Not a great deal, though I recently noticed that a friend of mine (native Australian English speaker) comes out with this kind of construction all the time.

    I'd suspect it happens in quotative constructions cross-linguistically, though. In Ubykh, it wasn't uncommon at all to hear sentences like «jəná dágʲəla jkʲ’áq’ama» q’an q’aq’á "she said 'he hasn't come yet'", where q’an is a sequential converb and q’aq’á a finite past tense of the verb q’a "to say". In similar constructions in Abkhaz, the equivalent quotative converb of ħʷa "to say" has been grammatically eroded down to the point where it can no longer take verb morphology and can now only be referred to as an (optional) quotative-marking particle ħʷa: «jará makʲ’ána dəmaːʣáʦt’» ħʷa lħʷájt’ "she said 'he hasn't come yet'".

  10. Kasper said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 9:07 am

    Er … call me an old pedant, but ought it not be "was like"?

  11. Mark said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 9:22 am

    I've also heard it used in present tense but still with past meaning:
    "So, I'm like '…' and she's like '…'"

  12. McLemore said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 9:43 am

    That's the "historical present," a shift from past tense to present tense that has the effect of making a story more vivid.

    As does the more affect-laden re-enactments that usually follow the quotatives 'like' and 'all'.

  13. Jim M. said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 9:57 am

    I post one idiom per day on an English idioms page, and today I posted this cartoon. I got this interesting response:

    "Well, I can tell you more than that. Not only it seems to have spread in English-speaking countries, but it also has gotten into other languages, like Portuguese. There is a similar expression that is used in the same way as "was like", in result of the English influence."

  14. Y said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    cf. "I'm like yeah, but she's all no", by The Mr. T Experience. Lyrics here.

  15. Lydia said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 10:15 am

    Psh. If Plato used it, how bad can it be?: Symposium 173a8:'τίς σοι διηγεῖτο; ἦ αὐτὸς Σωκράτης;' 'οὐ μὰ τὸν Δία,' ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ ('Who gave you the story? Socrates himself?' Then I was [like] 'God no!')

    (Yes, I know that the ἦν in ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ comes from ἦμι and not εἰμί, but I suspect that the difference didn't really register when most people encountered its few fossilized forms in use!)

  16. Miguel Viterbo said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 10:17 am

    The original is here: http://www.funnytimes.com/playground/cartoon.php?id=13427

    Easily findable via Google Search by Image. (Just drag the image to Google Images and the results will be all the pages using that image.)

    I believe this to be the original, since Eric Per1in is a frequent contributor to the Funny Times zine (according to Wikipedia).

  17. Bloix said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 10:28 am

    "Said" and "says" imply direct quotation. "Said that" implies indirect quotation.

    "Was like" introduces performance. It doesn't purport to be accurate quotation.

    "She was like" means that what follows is a recreation – often but not necessarily exaggerated or satirical – of what the quoted person said or did, in which the speaker portrays the intonation and emotional content of the quoted person's statement.

  18. marie-lucie said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 11:47 am

    "She was like" means that what follows is a recreation – often but not necessarily exaggerated or satirical – of what the quoted person said or did, in which the speaker portrays the intonation and emotional content of the quoted person's statement.

    I agree with Bloix. The words quoted may not be the exact words, but a close paraphrase, while the intonation and emotional content are more accurately remembered and rendered. Perhaps "She was like", etc arose from an understood "You know what she's like, she says things like: …..".

  19. Cindy said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 11:49 am

    My interpretation as well.

  20. marie-lucie said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    While I was growing up in a rural area of France, the local people would quote others by preceding the quote with Il/Elle dit comme ça, lit. 'S/he says like this'. I don't know if this is still current.

  21. Gene Callahan said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 11:59 am

    "I'm not at all clear on when to use "was like" and when to use "was all", though."

    "Was all" is used when the speech is very dramatic in some way: "He was all 'F*&^ you," and so I was all up in his face and s&^t."

  22. SlideSF said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

    Bloix nailed it.

  23. Pflaumbaum said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

    MLE has an interesting quotative alongside 'was like'. From Kerswill et al. Ethnicity, friendship network and social practices as the motor of dialect change: linguistic innovation in London:

    i) This is them 'what area are you from . what part? this is me I'm from Hackney'
    ii) This is her 'that was my sister'
    iii) This is him 'don't lie. if I search you and if I find one I'll kick your arse'
    iv) This is my mum 'what are you doing? I was in the queue before you'
    v) This is my mum's boyfriend 'put that in your pocket now'

    There's also a nice example on the following page of movement between 'said' and 'this is me' in one subject's anecdote, which may support Bloix's conjecture. Too long to quote on LL though.

  24. Dan Hemmens said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    Actually, that isn't too far away from the English lessons I remember from school, in which we were informed that we should avoid the word "said" at all costs – at least in creative writing.

    Although I confess that "was like" was not suggested as an alternative.

  25. peter said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 3:53 pm

    Lazar said (June 15, 2013 @ 7:06 am)

    "There's an interesting quotative usage which I think is more common among older people: "He says to me, he says, [quote]." Does anybody know much about that one?"

    This is very common in working-class British English. In taking twice-daily bus journeys, I would overhear this construction at least 3 or 4 times a week.

  26. John Walden said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

    My wife (South Yorkshire) uses "I goes……." and "She/He goes……….". The "I goes ……." is interesting because she never says "Every morning I goes to the baker's". It's only when "I" is, if this makes sense, the name of the person in a third-person narrative.

  27. isaiah said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

    I disagree that "he/she was like…" implies that you are paraphrasing the words but copying the intonation. Maybe it meant that once, but I don't think it does now, at least among the speakers I hear.

    For example, "She was like 'get out of here', but she said it very quietly" [spoken loudly] seems perfectly natural to me.

    I do think "was like…" and "was all…" both imply some kind of emotion or passion about the topic, either on the part of the original speaker or on the part of the person quoting their speech.

  28. JR said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 6:20 pm

    I also agree with Bloix.

    Spanish (at least Mexican Spanish) does this with "así de." As in "Y yo así de '¿qué?'"'–And I was like, "what?"

  29. Bathrobe said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 7:05 pm

    Yes, I grew up with 'And he goes "…"', then she goes '"…"', then I go '"…"'. But I've never heard 'I goes "…"'

  30. David Morris said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 9:07 pm

    When I verbally introduce a direct quotation with 'said', I strive to make the quotation exact. Otherwise, I say something like, 'said something like'.

  31. JS said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

    isaiah sounds rightest.

    "Was like" indeed tends to mean that some non-verbal/emotive aspect of the speech act is also being conveyed — in fact, there doesn't need to be a speech act at all, hence the possibility of (googleable) stuff like "He was like [shakes head]."

    However, for this very reason, it is "was like" and not "said" that is specifically associated with (purported) direct quotation, contra Bloix. Thus, "He said, 'I'm not…'" and "He was like, 'I'm not…'" are both fine, while "He said he's not…" is acceptable but "He was like he's not…" is… not.

  32. Gassalasca said,

    June 16, 2013 @ 1:17 am

    The Serbian equivalent, which I'm pretty sure I tend to use a lot, is "biti u fazonu".
    (biti = to be; u = in; fazon = originally a joke, shtick, but also has the meaning of "(one's) thing" as in "an activity uniquely suitable and satisfying to one" ).

    "Ja sam u fazonu…" (I am in fazon…)
    "On je bio u fazonu… (He was in fazon…)

  33. Gassalasca said,

    June 16, 2013 @ 1:27 am

    Although I think I also use "Ja sam kao…" which would be the literal translation of the English phrase (kao = like).

  34. michael farris said,

    June 16, 2013 @ 2:10 am

    Trying to think about differences, here

    She's like… (presented as a direct quotation though some editing for effect may be added)

    He's all…. (more or less the same, but I think it might have a slight dengrating effect not necessarily present with 'like'. but I might be imagining it)

    He's all like…

    She's like all…

    Cant think of any difference between these two (or between them and 'like').

    I remember "she goes" (only with I go for first person) but I think it's passing/passed out of most general American usage.

  35. M.N. said,

    June 16, 2013 @ 5:49 am

    Even beyond re-wording what someone actually said, as Bloix and Isaiah describe, "was like" can also express a thought that remained unspoken in actual fact — or in the event? :) I've definitely said things like the following:

    "I was standing in line at Starbucks, and suddenly this guy just started talking to me out of the blue. I was like 'do I know you?' but I didn't say anything, just gave him a funny look."

    Maybe I'm just not a native user of "was all", but I get the impression that it doesn't share the freedom of "was like", and must be used for quotation only.

  36. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 16, 2013 @ 7:20 am

    Here in northern New Mexico, "be like" and "be all" are very often used for exact quotation, including of what someone just said, if it's striking.

    Young Person A: Why didn't I do that?

    Young Person B: 'Cause you're a dumb-ass.


    Young person C: She's all "you're a dumb-ass."

    Young person A: I'm all "you're a dumb-ass."

    [Laughter continues]

  37. Zeppelin said,

    June 16, 2013 @ 10:12 am

    There's a very similar construction – also considered youth language – in German:

    "[und] ich/er/sie so:"
    [and] I/he/she/they like-this:

    Which has the advantage of not containing a verb, so it's tense-neutral to begin with!

  38. Michael Cargal said,

    June 16, 2013 @ 10:27 am

    May I pause for a moment to appreciate the comments here (when they are open). Everyone is thoughtful and civil, and a few are insightful. Thanks, guys.

  39. Rodger C said,

    June 16, 2013 @ 11:25 am

    Faulkner would introduce pieces of dialogue in an exchange with "And X," "And Y."

  40. cameron said,

    June 16, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

    In a construction much like the "he says to me, he says . . . " usage mentioned above, one of the stereotypical New York area (especially New Jersey) used to be "so she goes, she goes. . . "

    I haven't heard anyone say that in years, but it was common, if already old-school, when I was a kid.

  41. Pflaumbaum said,

    June 16, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

    @ Roger C-

    And Thomas Pynchon is fond of using the character's name modified by an adjective or participle as a quotative:

    "Then we'll find a way," Franz undaunted.

    "Er, by the way," Pflaumbaum getting hesitant now, "is anyone still reading these comments?"

    …sorta thing.

  42. Svafa said,

    June 17, 2013 @ 9:56 am

    @M.N.: Using your example, I think it would be safe to replace "I was like…" with "I was all 'do I know you?' but I didn't say anything, just gave him a funny look." The change comes across as stronger, almost arrogant, than the more modest and confused "like", but it still works.

  43. Simon Wright said,

    June 17, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

    The other day I overheard one 11-year-old boy talking to another here in Gloucestershire, UK: "She went '…', and I went '…'".

  44. Cy said,

    June 17, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

    In my own personal anecdotal usage, I use 'said' in reported speech – not direct quotes. For direct quotes, depending on paraphrasal level, it's either "he goes"+pause, "he's like"+pause, or "he's all (like)" +pause. I _believe_ I wouldn't use 'said' for a direct quote.

    Unless I'm using it for an emphatic assertion quote: "He SAID he didn't want anymore. Leave him alone."

    Yay for anecdotes.

  45. Mike said,

    June 17, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

    It also entered Canadian French:

    Growing up, statements like "J'etais comme, "No way!"" were pretty frequent.

  46. lolly said,

    June 17, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

    @Svafa –

    Right on!

    "I was like" is a softer version of "I was all".

    I have in my mind's eye a vision of a teenage girl standing sway-backed with one hand-on-hip, wagging her finger for emphasis while indignantly recounting a conversation and saying, "And I was all…"

  47. M.N. said,

    June 18, 2013 @ 2:35 am

    @Svafa: That's interesting, because it's very much not the intuition I have. But I don't think I ever use "was all" in my own speech, only "was like"…

  48. melinda said,

    June 19, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

    I agree with Bloix. Actually, that's a pretty important distinction in my speech, and I deliberately try not to use "said" when I can't produce an exact quote.

    "All" to me is more of an attitude and actions- if I said, "She was all 'get away from me'", she might not have said anything at all. In fact, I think I've used this construction to describe penguins.

  49. sep332 said,

    June 25, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

    There was a Peanuts strip where Charlie Brown has this same complaint about the word "goes" replacing "said". Can't find it now, my Google-fu is weak.

  50. Daniel said,

    June 26, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

    The equivalent within Italian slang- or at least its informal registers- seems to be doing away with the quotative entirely:

    Ho chiesto "chi vuole un gelato?" e tutti "io! io!"

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