The Valley Girl way of speaking began in California’s San Fernando Valley in the 1970s. It has metastasized through the English-speaking world and spread to sectors populated by those who know better but use it anyway. For instance, this morning on National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show, the guests were three experienced Washington DC journalists whose stock-in-trade is the English language. Their answers to all but two or three questions began with “I mean,” “So,” or “Y’know.”
About every thirty seconds, “y’know” also popped up in meaningless parenthetical phrases, as in “The President, y’know, has a lot at stake in this Iran arms deal, “y’know.” That nearly matches the record of the still-undefeated champion of empty assertions, an interview subject who responded to a question from the late NBC correspondent Edwin Newman: “Y’know, you never know, y’know.”
It was not the job of today’s guest host on the Rehm Show, Tamara Keith, to stem the flow of empty phraseology. I wish that it had been. We can do it ourselves. Surely, in a language with the riches of English, literate people can do better than start a sentence with “So——.” Perhaps they need that split-second to gather their thoughts.