I so enjoy being a citizen of the living and in fact sweaty smelly and horny English language. Here are some favorite neologisms of my adult years.

“I Was Like” · I remember the first time I noticed this, in an early-Web-era chunk of trash-TV commentary, and remarking how instantly comprehensible it was. “I was like, he really shouldn’t have done that.” The comma is weak there (but typographically and grammatically helpful), much stronger in usages such as “She was like, ewwwww.” This has totally overrun the territory formerly occupied by “I said, in effect, ...”, “along the lines of”, and related idioms.

I haven’t seen a serious etymological study, but I suspect it derives vigor from the late-beatnik/early-hippie usages of “Like” which have survived and are now lodged deeply in mainstream formulations such as “They must have spent like millions on that”.

But it has a very specific grammatical formula which I think didn’t exist in the Seventies but did by the early Nineties, a plausible first occurrence perhaps already uncovered by an earnest scholar of modern English. If not, a prize awaits one of those.

This also means that there are many living, and reading this, who cannot remember a time when this wasn’t part of the language.

“Woah” · It’s everywhere and only crossed my radar after the dawn of Twitter. Online research quickly uncovers assertions that it’s an alternative, perhaps simply erroneous, spelling of “whoa”, but I’m unconvinced.

It feels to me like an expletive, natural to the native speaker of modern English, emanating from a location related to “Wow” and perhaps with a flavoring of “Oh”; conveying amazement without suggesting that anyone stop what they’re doing.

I suspect that this is actually a rather pure neologism, of the best possible sort, where literate people capture what they hear being said (maybe by themselves) and just write it down onomatopoeically without worrying too much.

“More So” · This one is subtle, and it’s definitely got a class dimension, where by “class” I mean “How much education you got, influenced by how much your parents did.” I hear things like “It was horrible, even more so than what happened to Dave.” Many well-educated Anglophones just wouldn’t include the “so”; but it’s compelling.

It’s not that new; I observe that there are (often disparaging) entries for the single word “Moreso” in online dictionaries, but I never see this usage written, and my ears hear it as two words. They hear it a lot recently, in sentences that surprise but sort of please my ear. Check the discussions at Grammarist and Language Log, both of which consider the combined form an accomplished fact.

I think this usage is well on its way to entering the written mainstream simply because its flavor pleases, but I bet that when that happens, it remains a two-word more so than one-word construct.

There Are More · Lots; I’m just cherrypicking from what I hear day-to-day. English is a big loud vigorous animal, still in its youth.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Lee Dale (Oct 03 2012, at 22:55)

Wow. I wrote this June 2010:

"Even moreso with all the clutter of ad space, menu columns, and more."

Now I feel like an idiot. And I blame Jean Luc Picard.

Also, here's the full article on a subject Apple has since addressed, including copying and pasting. Pretty cool: http://sayyeah.com/post/782155665/towards-better-readability-on-the-web


From: Leo (Oct 04 2012, at 00:40)

My first memory of "whoa"/"woah" expressing bemusement/approval/general positive reaction was in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.


From: Simon Wright (Oct 04 2012, at 00:49)

Pretty sure that, in English English, "I was like" just means plain "I said".

As for "moreso", Language Log is on the descriptive side of linguistics, so if people are saying and writing it, they'll note the fact.


From: Sonny Gill (Oct 04 2012, at 00:49)

Here are some more for you, if you didn't already know http://britishisms.wordpress.com/?


From: Dave Walker (Oct 04 2012, at 01:14)

"Was like" is common usage on this side of the pond, too - a few articles have appeared and much head-scratching has been done.

One suggestion as to how it became a popular replacement for "said" is that (especially in conversation) it includes opportunity for relating information other than words - emphasis, expression, movement etc. However, a good point has been made, in that "was like" runs counter to a very common trend in neologisms, by being *longer* than the term it aims to replace...


From: Tkil (Oct 04 2012, at 02:12)

I always blamed "Woah" on Keanu Reeves (both Bill & Ted, and Matrix).

And "I was like" strikes me as a bit "valley girl" (cf Frank Zappa).


From: Len (Oct 04 2012, at 04:18)

More on the quotative usage of "like": http://www.grammarphobia.com/on-language-like


From: Jamie (Oct 04 2012, at 04:20)

"if only".

A friend re-rendered that as iphonle. Which worked better before the iPhone.


From: tom jones (Oct 04 2012, at 06:41)

it seems you are right about "i was like" but not about the other two:



From: Doug Landauer (Oct 04 2012, at 07:17)

I was about to add "all" and "goes" as alternatives for the quotative usage of "like". I see that they're mentioned in the NYT Magazine article, but simply as alternative words for quoting. What fascinates me is the timing -- seeing the language change over decades.

In my experience, the first replacement for "he said..." was "he goes ...", and it took about a dozen years before I started hearing "he's all ..." to introduce a quote. I think "He's like ..." is the newest of this series of idioms.

Being old enough to see a slang-ish usage appear, become somewhat popular, and then fade mostly away ... is kinda groovy. :-)


From: Felix (Oct 04 2012, at 07:18)

The "I was like" idiom is actually translated in other languages as well. Here in Romania a lot of people (full disclosure: including me) use "Am fost like" (Am fost = I was) A LOT. And I bet we're not the only ones.


From: Graham Fawcett (Oct 04 2012, at 07:43)

Doesn't "woah" originate from cowboy-speak? Telling your horse to stop is not *too* different from telling the world to hold on a second while you "process" something.


From: Brent Simmons (Oct 04 2012, at 11:32)

When I was in school — early ’80s, mid-Atlantic states — the common usage seemed to be to say “I was all” and “he was like.” People didn’t say “I was like” or “he was all.”

I liked this usage because it was very clear about subjectivity. We know what we are all about, but we can only approximate (like) other people.


From: Jake Munson (Oct 04 2012, at 11:38)

One that some times annoys me is "Really?!" As in, "My boss told me not to be late anymore. Really?! He is 30 minutes late every day!"


From: Eric A. Meyer (Oct 04 2012, at 14:24)

A closely related observation from James Nicoll, posted to Usenet back in the day:

“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Nicoll#.22The_Purity_of_the_English_Language.22)


From: Ross Reedstrom (Oct 04 2012, at 21:37)

Ah, "My bad" is my least favorite neologism, but is insidious enough that I've caught myself using it a few times.


From: g (Oct 05 2012, at 02:11)

If "woah" is Keanu Reeves's fault, I suppose that makes it a Neo-logism.


From: Chris (Oct 05 2012, at 03:00)

as a Northern English person "like" is used extensively as a way to punctuate a sentence:

"I was walking down the road, like"

"I really enjoyed that film, like"

"My hat is really cool, like"

In your first example it would be:

"“He really shouldn’t have done that, like.”

Sometimes it's even longer:

"This is a really great pub like and that."

"I'm enjoying the summer like and that".

Before coming to live in the South of England (I live in Cambridge) I was not aware that I said this and now I make a conscious effort not to say it. I doubt it was in use more than 20 years ago.


From: Leah (Oct 07 2012, at 14:38)

There have been some interesting academic papers about "be like" as a quotation device. One, by Fox Tree and Tomlinson, compares the use of "said" and "be like" in conversations from the 1980's and the 2000's, finding that in the '80s "said" was used 85% of the time, while "be like" was used only 4% of the time, but by the 2000s, "said" was used only 7% of the time, while "be like" was used 92% of the time. (They also mention the third option of "go"). They propose that "like" has gained popularity because it enables a broader range of expression than "said". While "said" can only introduce speech, "like" can be used to introduce speech, sounds, exclamations, thoughts, and even gestures. Unfortunately, the paper isn't free to read, but if you have a connection to a subscription, or feel like paying, here it is: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01638530701739280


From: Ian (Oct 09 2012, at 06:55)

One of my un-favourite neologisms is starting explanations with "So..". Heard it first around 2004 from Microsoft folks. "So the service is built around a content streaming API...."


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