…and then she was all like “that’s what I’m sayin’. Quotative ‘be like’ is used all the damn time.”

A couple nights ago, I posted a bit about the quotative use of “be like.” That’s the usage of the verb to be plus like to signal a quotation, like in the following constructed example:

So I ran into this guy I know, and he was all like “hey, baby,” and I was like “huh? what’s your deal.”

So I posted some stuff, based on some reflections I’ve had about an assignment for a class I’m taking. (And by the way, I haven’t yet done the readings relating to that assignment. There’s actually fairly extensive literature on this topic.) And anyhow, a friend of mine from school made some interesting comments. She uses the quotative “be like” as an example to illustrate prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar with her intro to linguistics students. Here’s some of what she says:

Two points I make are: 1) quotative “be like” is used far more widely and by much more of the population (and extends into much older segments of the population) than we assume, 2) quot. “be like” could be grammatical someday. Both points surprise the students.

She’s got her students keeping an ear out for uses of the quotative “be like,” and particularly paying attention to the age/generation of the speaker. (‘Cause she’s all like, “I totally use ‘be like’ all the time, and I’m as old as dirt.” Well, what she said was that she has “fallen out of the traditional ‘youth’ demographic.” As so many of us have fallen.) Maybe we’ll get to hear more about this later. (I mean, the use of “be like” across generations, not the falling out of demographics.)

As far as the second point goes, I totally agree that the quotative “be like” could be grammatical some day. I actually expect it will be. What with the way its use is ramping up, I don’t even think it will be that far in the future. My friend comments that she believes that the use of “said” is already getting rarer, and that she expects she only uses it in more formal situations. I would posit that it’s not only about formality. It actually serves a function that isn’t directly covered by other verbs in English. I mean, it allows you to quote someone without committing to the actual verbiage. I guess we could otherwise say “said something like” or “thought something like,” but really I think “was like” means “spoke words and/or produced gestures and/or had thoughts indicating an attitude/reaction/emotional state that could be characterized by the following linguistic expression, which may or may not have actually been uttered by the person to whom it is attributed.” The verb “say” implies more of a commitment to actual spoken words, while “be like” doesn’t. I’m imagining possible dialogs (which I apparently enjoy doing…):

A: He was all like “you suck.”
B: Did he say that?
A: No, but he gave me that look.


A: He said “you suck.”
B: Did he say that?
A: WTF? Are you actually listening to me? Yeah, I said he said it. You suck.

Okay. There are my musings for now. I still have some fun googling results to share, but right now I think I’m going to try to get a wee bit of a nap. (Phoebe woke me up around 5:00 this morning.) And then I should probably do some of my actual work.

One thought on “…and then she was all like “that’s what I’m sayin’. Quotative ‘be like’ is used all the damn time.”

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