Twitter is not the healthiest place for those of a choleric temperament. My doctors murmur worrying things about my blood pressure, and tell me that if I don’t restrict my daily intake of hot takes they won’t be answerable for the consequences. Yet I persist, and this little rant was occasioned by a tweet I happened across the other day which read:
“Can we expunge the language of ‘I was like?’ Please.”
Comments under the tweet read things such as “It drives me BERSERK” and “I automatically lower my assessment of the speaker’s intellect when I hear it.”
I was like, incensed.
First off, saying “I was like” or “I was all” is not a direct replacement for “I said”, but a way of indicating that you are paraphrasing and not directly quoting the conversation you had, and fulfils its own useful function in everyday speech.
Secondly, you’ve revealed yourself as a snob. A pompous middle-aged wannabe Sunday Times columnist. The kind of person who cheerfully self-identifies as a ‘Grammar Nazi’, as if comparing yourself to fascists was a rational or healthy way to describe how you feel about the Oxford comma!
Why do it? Why stifle an infinite sparkling variety? Surely if you express yourself in such a way that the intended recipient of your message grasps your meaning, that’s all you need. You may convey your meaning with antiquated flourishes of sesquipedalian loquaciousness, but that doesn’t make you any better or worse than the teenage girls on your bus, conveying meaning to each other with tone and pitch shifts, their own vocabulary and changes in facial expression. There’s room for both.
Linguistic prescriptivism – the notion that there is one prescribed, hierarchical way to talk or write – went out with the dinosaurs, and reeks of classism and ableism. The science of linguistics nowadays devotes itself to describing and cataloguing the rich and beautiful permutations of languages across the globe. Vernaculars, pidgins, creoles, slang. Imagine criticising the ridiculously brilliant phrase ‘fierce mild’ for not making sense, or complaining that your ‘few jars’ in the pub have been served in pint glasses. If no-one ever did anything different or had any fun with words, where would literature be?
Shakespeare spelt his name six different ways. Because he, like, felt like it.