Nico Muhly reports on especially efficient language use:

So last week, I was in Los Angeles and needed to buy gifts. One of the many reasons I fear LA so much is because you can’t STROLL and buy stuff; you have to make a whole Agenda and drive from place to place and deal with parking and whatever else. I hauled my cookies to Barneys, which was a complete bordello of fabric and screaming; it was two days


after Christmas and everything was on MegaSjúper Sale. I witnessed one of the best pieces of language. There were these two really tall, really outrageous sort of voguey dudes in noisy shoes clicking and clacking up the stairs, and when they got to the top the following thing happened:

[Sees the huge banner saying 70% off]

[Sees the huge swarm of people shopping]

[They make their way through the crowd and discover that all the sizes left on the rack are XL and XXL and/or dumb pink Dolce & Gabbana things.]
Oh, Girl

Language Log looked at similar cases a while back, in particular in postings about dude, including one with an all-dude cartoon exchange. As Mark Liberman said on that occasion:

People seem to be especially fond of these single-word conversations with newly-discovered slang like dude. One reason for this was featured in Scott Kiesling’s American Speech article — such jokes fit the always-popular view that youth culture has degenerated to a linguistic level barely above grunts and squeals. I think there’s another side to it as well, seen from the other side of the fence: incoming slang is a sort of secret language, expressing exquisitely shaded meanings that are shared among the in-group but are baffling to outsiders. But what the outsiders are missing is not so much the lexical items as the shared cultural context, and so it’s not so easy as learning a word definition. The all-dude cartoons are a way of making that point, and I suspect that’s why natives of dudespeak seem to like them even more than the members of pre-dude generations do.

(Hat tip to Ned Deily.)

11 Responses to “Parsimony”

  1. Ben Bolker Says:

    Another use of dude:

  2. Mike Keesey Says:

    On P. G. Wodehouse story (can’t remember the one offhand) has a brief conversation with NO words, just punctuation. Something to the effect of:

    “?” he asked.

  3. John Cowan Says:

    The ?/! conversation has been attributed to several people, and means: “How’s my new book/play/whatever doing?” “It’s the bomb!”

  4. Jerome Rainey Says:

    It reminded me of this exchange from Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22”:

    “That Yossarian,” the two officers laughed, shaking their heads, and got another ball from the box on the shelf.
    “That Yossarian,” Yossarian answered them.
    “Yossarian,” Nately whispered cautioningly.
    “You see what I mean?” asked Clevinger.
    “The officers laughed again when they heard Yossarian mimicking them. “That Yossarian,” they said more loudly.
    “That Yossarian,” Yossarian echoed.

  5. KevinL Says:

    I think sometimes it can just be about exercising intonation – not so much about a secret language, or shared understandings as such, but there’s something entertaining about being able to use one word with varying inflections to convey so much. Agreed that’s hard for foreign language students to learn, but most portions of a language are taken by themselves – I’m not sure that’s sufficient reason to call it a secret language.

  6. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To KevinL: back in my Language Log posting “Dudes, it’s John and Marsha”, I noted Stan Freberg’s use of prosody (and voice quality) to create a fairly long dialogue almost entirely composed of “John” and “Marsha”.

  7. Breffni Says:

    Then there’s this scene from The Wire, season 1:

  8. Wayne Says:


    Which is probably the most irritating and dismissive, admittedly primordial dudespeak to have arisen in the last decade or so. Can anyone manage to come up with something moreso (other than “dude”)?

    As I emailed JNS this morning, how delightful to have made the re-acquaintance of Arnold Zwicky, after so many years distanced from soc.motss.

  9. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Wayne: free-standing (dismissive) “whatever” is better characterized as teenspeak than as dudespeak, though in fact it’s by no means limited to teenagers. I *think* the item has been discussed on ADS-L or Language Log or both, but at the moment I can’t find the discussion — though I’m sure it’s been around for more than a decade (Recency Illusion alert!).

  10. Music and words | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 1/11/09: Muhly on girl used for many conversational purposes (like […]

  11. Music and words | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] “Parsimony” 1/11/09: Muhly on girl used for many conversational purposes (like dude) […]

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