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Punctuation Update: New Yorker Is All, "Okay, We Get It"

Filed under: Little Words   Tagged: , , ,

Daniel Radosh is pretty clearly right about The New Yorker’s style rule on such constructions as, “So I was like, ‘I’ll have you know my dissertation is being published by Cambridge University Press!’” I’m glad to see that the magazine has taken a step in the right direction. It’s painful to see a mere punctuational nicety elevated to a wilful refusal to understand the actual content of the utterance. Hurrah!


You know, I’ve been tracking this myself over the years, and I must respectfully disagree with D.R. I believe this rule changes with the perceived vacuity of the speaker. I will back this up!

Also, I’m very glad he brought this up, because I find it fascinating. I may be a grammar purist, but I once read a very convincing defense of the deliberate use of “like” as “said approximately, if not in these exact words, because it’s certainly what I was feeling and thinking,” that convinced me it was a useful syntactical tool. Listen to people saying “Then I said,” and how different it is from “Then I was like.” It may sound sloppy, but it’s canny and truthful in its inexactness.

I have not been following this at all, and as a licensed copyeditor (this is a lie, I am not licensed), I have always been in favor of the usage of “like” Radosh defends. It acts as a disclaimer “Do not quote me on this; I’m not using exact words here,” and moreover, it also expresses, “Who cares about the exact words, I’m going for the emotional essence.” It’s quite a package.

Hmm on the Radosh side. In a weird way, that’s almost worse than a rigid rule blindly applied, per Radosh. I would be somewhat saddened to learn that “perceived vacuity” is the apparent deciding factor, for I expect that it may have been precisely the vacuous who bestowed the language with this potent little construction. Would any fan of Martin Scorsese or David Chase dispute that the unlettered can be powerfully economical and expressive with their words? On the other hand, it’s good that TNY does recognize the power of “like,” on which we agree.

In the case of Radosh v. New Yorker Copyeditors, I look forward to your amicus brief!

Though I do happen to agree with Emily on the value of “like” as a word with a specific meaning different from “said,” I was not actually in my posts “defending” the use of “like.” I was simply pointing out that when people do use the word, TNY is obliged to punctuate it correctly.

I am curious to see Emily’s supporting evidence for her “perceived vacuity” argument. Is Arianna Huffington more vacuous than a guy who brews beer?

Fair point. Since the posts were written by one who now claims to see the “value” of that meaning, the distinction seems a small one. But I acknowledge the distinction.

Clarification: The first post was written by special correspondent Vance Lehmkuhl, and endorsed and amplified by yours truly in the comments.

Understood. My apologies go out to the good Mr. Lehmkuhl. Since I occupy a not entirely dissimilar position within this website, I should know better.

I don’t seem to be getting notifications of comments anymore; the system must know I’m an absentee mother!

Dan, I definitely didn’t take the post as a defense of “like,” as such. I really am delighted you brought this up, because I notice this every time (in issues past and present), too. I’ll look out for that evidence of my implied-vacuity theory and share it when I land on it again.

Also, it was noted somewhere recently (help me, Google, help, help me Google) that English speakers have been throwing “like”s into their speech since the Valley Girl’s grandma was a pup. Paging Jesse Sheidlower…

Also, I loved those beer guys, didn’t you? They were in the classic mode of New Yorker subjects who won’t rest till they achieve their own particular alchemy. What the magazine now lacks in near-endlessly continuing Profiles (a form I loved, for the record), it’s gained in chronicles of endlessly continuing quests. Cheers to that.

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