Like, Enough Already With the Whatever

Image by Gerd Altmann

Pamela Chan, Editorial/

There’s a reason you often hear people saying “don’t say whatever”.  According to a poll conducted by Marist at the end of 2020, “whatever” took the lead for the 12th year in a row! Other words on the hit list include the inappropriate use of “like” and phrases such as “you know what I mean” and “to tell you the truth”. “Actually” is also considered to be irritating. All of these individual words are words in the dictionary that are being used in trendy ways. If you simply cannot sustain this type of language, you will want to avoid taking public transit. Tune into the conversations of people around you and …like you just … like, might go out of your mind. You know what I mean? But how did we end up talking like this?

These common expressions originated down the coast from British Columbia, in the San Fernando Valley. Valspeak is a collection of expressions that was first used by teenage “Valley Girls” in the 1970s and ’80s.

Examples of Val Speak included:

  • like
  • as if
  • bitchin’
  • whatever
  • fer shur
  • totally
  • SO
  • seriously
  • gnarly
  • are you serious
  • awesome; and,
  • gag me with a spoon.

Generation X parents who cringe every time their teenager says “like” or “whatever” can thank their fellow Gen-Xers for their contribution to modern American English.  Frank Zappa – who produced the Valley Girl song in 1982 – described a trend that, as he put it, turned into “cultural pollution”. He thought the song and its influence would go on the radio and then disappear. “Big crazy deal”, he said.

As if, Frank. Like, were you serious?

Frank didn’t seem to support the popularity and imitation that his song encouraged.  Was he right to suggest that an alternative to the empty values and narcissism underpinning this type of language is the need to encourage honesty and a respect for craftmanship in our children? And let’s not forget encouraging an ability to speak full sentences without used hedges such as “like”.

Millennials and Gen Z youth today have their own list of expressions. Meanwhile, the Valspeaking youth of Generation X moved on to the corner suite, life off the grid or somewhere in between, and are barely recognizable compared to their Valspeaking former selves. Recently, Sean Penn described meeting the inspiration for a ValSpeaking character the he portrayed in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

If you’re feeling the urge to “flex” and show off your knowledge of recent youth inspired vernacular, good luck getting it right. Any GenZers, Gen ZAlpha or Gen Alpha within earshot will likely correct you.


An interesting list of explanations for Val Speak

Frank and Moon Unit discuss “Valley Girl – the song” on Good Morning America

The Zappas perform “Valley Girl” in 2010

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