Call him up and be like …

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Overheard on Locust Walk: "What you need to do is call him up and be like, 'why are you doing this to me?'"

Something about this struck me — maybe it's because I'm old enough that I still think of be like as a description of behavior associated with speaking, rather than a simple synonym for say. But I should have know better — {"call him up and be like"} gets 7,590 web hits on Google, which is a lot for a six-word sequence.

A sample from the first couple of pages:

if this relationship means as much as you say it does. then just call him up and be like whats up latley
Call him up and be like man i was wrong to spoil your day and truth is man i got just a little jealous…
It would have been really awkward for me to call him up and be like “Hey, are you sure I gave you those warts?”
I just want to call him up and be like “MAGIC BOB I LOVE YOU” in a southern accent …
call him up and be like… dude im so sorry ur snake is dead
i just wanna call him up and be like "take it or leave it," ..but i'm afraid to. because i have a feeling he'll leave it
I have Boss's number, and i'm extremely tempted to call him up and be like, 'we have an official translator in the administration'.

In contrast, {"call him up and be all"} gets only two hits, and be all means "say" in only one of the two:

People would call him up, and be all mad like.
i'll call him up and be all, yo what's up with your baby?

It's true that "be like" seems to be commoner than "be all" — sometimes a little commoner, sometimes a lot commoner:

like all ratio
was __ no way 60,300 35,600 1.7
was __ OMG 239,000 11,700 20.4
was __ get out 12,800 31 412.9

That's quite a range of ratios. But the 7,590-to-1 ratio for "call him up and be __" is way out there, as close to a categorical distinction of grammaticality as you're likely to find on the web. Do Arnold Zwicky and the Stanford ALL project have an explanation for this?

[Anya Lunden writes:

The be like/all asymmetry in your recent LL post really struck me. As a (somewhat shame-faced) like/all speaker, this is definitely a clear contrast for me. Playing with it, the thing I found most interesting is that if I were the person being called in these situations, and were to describe what happened, afterwards, I would use 'all'.

caller, pre-call: I'm going to call him up and be like, 'why are you doing this to me?'

callee, post-call: She called me up and was all, 'why are you doing this to me?'

I hesitate to try to put any names to this but I'd be surprised if other like/all speakers didn't share it.

Meanwhile, there's another possibility, "was all like". Of the phrases in your chart, "was all like out get" was the only that got more hits than "all" (by quite a bit– 5,320 to 31). (I feel that the 'all' softens it a bit– the speaker probably didn't say anything as blunt as "get out". The other reported utterances are less likely candidates for softening ('no way' and 'OMG') since both are expressing some type of surprise rather than saying something potentially rude.)

On behalf of the Stanford ALL project, Tom Wasow writes:


I don't have a ready answer for the query. The one thing that comes to mind is that we found a very high rate of "all" introducing what we called "stereotypes", rather than direct quotes or inner thoughts. It seems plausible to me that "no way" would be more likely to be used as a way of characterizing stereotypical behavior of an individual than "get out", with "OMG" in between. But I don't know how to test that idea.


[Amy Vaughn writes:

I'm a sophomore linguistics major at Reed College, and a big Language Log fan. I'm presently taking a class on historical linguistics, which is more accurately described as being a class about 'language relations' (so saith my professor). We recently covered grammaticalization, so we've been talking a lot about 'be like'. So when I read your recent post about 'be all' vs. 'be like', I was naturally very fascinated and felt compelled to share.
I noticed that the Stanford ALL Project suggests that 'be all' introduces stereotypical behavior. Within our class, which is notably made up of one linguistics professor and something like fifteen students in their late teens or early twenties, we reached the conclusion, drawing on personal experience, that 'be all', which used to just be 'be all /like/', is most commonly used (at least amongst our peer groups) to introduce some reported or speculative speech/behavior, much like 'be like', but in a mocking fashion, which would almost always, perhaps as a requirement of usage, involve pejorative speech patterns, tone of voice, and even body movement and/or gestures.
It's really difficult for me to provide a good example, of course, as you can't see me making sassy gestures at my computer screen. Understandably, Google can't either – alas.


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