I mean, when did this start?

I mean, am I the only one who’s noticed this bizarre new trend in which every sentence must begin with the words “I mean”? I mean, it seems as though everyone is doing it, and it makes no sense. I mean, what are they trying to say? I mean, does saying “I mean” at the beginning of a sentence convey that what follows is your true intention, thereby invalidating or at least further explaining what came before it, even if what came before it also began with “I mean”?

I mean, I really started to notice this on The Voice, primarily from coach Christina Aguilera. I mean, she really does begin every sentence with these two words. I mean, you can see her looking off to the side as she says it, giving a clue that this vocal twitch is covering her while she thinks of something interesting to say. I mean, that would set it in good company, and might even make it a better choice than “um,” or some other meaningless indication that you have everyone’s attention, but don’t yet have anything coherent to say.

I mean, that’s where we get to why I felt I needed to rant about this here. I mean, this blog is supposed to be about how to write fantasy and science fiction, not me taking pot shots at a pop star. I mean, beyond simply being annoyed by it—and, I mean, I’m totally annoyed by it—it’s interesting to take a look at this sort of phenomenon.

I mean, if it was just Christina Aguilera, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. I mean, there she is on live TV being asked to extemporaneously comment on someone else’s performance. I mean, put anyone in that pressure situation and you’ll get some degree of hemming and hawing no matter her experience and comfort level as a performer. I mean, if you ask her to sing in front of an audience it seems that she can do that at the snap of her fingers, but, I mean, this coaching/critic thing is a whole different skill set. I mean, very few people are capable of achieving the Full Simon Cowell.

I mean, I’ve been hearing this all over the place, too, and not just The Voice. I mean, I’m a fan of NFL football and in my efforts to avoid the TV news, which is, I mean, something that makes me just feel bad, I’ve started getting hooked on NFL AM, which runs all morning. I mean, on this show, which is like the Today Show but only about football, they interview players and now almost all of those players are starting to do this too. I mean, my wife is also a reality TV fan and watches The Real Housewives of the Mafia, or whatever, and I mean, most of these women are doing it too.

I mean, I once had an opportunity to interview Harlan Ellison and he told me he watches Judge Judy every day in order to hear how real people talk. I mean, this is a good exercise, and one that I’ve often encouraged. I mean, the more you listen to people the more of this sort of thing you’ll pick up, and though I’m being catty in this post, literally starting every sentence with “I mean”, if you’re writing contemporary fiction you’re going to want to listen for this and make sure your younger characters are saying it, and saying it a lot.

I mean, I don’t set the rules, I just report in them, and maybe by sensitizing a few people to it, it’ll eventually go away.


— I mean, Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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12 Responses to I MEAN, ENOUGH ALREADY

  1. Sean Durity says:

    Really? I mean, I thought “really” was the annoying vocal fad…

  2. Karen Naylor says:

    And I thought it was ‘like’…

  3. andrebreillatt says:

    My brain couldn’t figure out whether to laugh or bleed. That was actually painful.
    Throw into the mix “you know what I’m saying” and “like”.

  4. Philip Athans says:

    I mean, it’s really, like, literally the worst thing ever, know what I’m sayin’?

  5. Barbara says:

    I mean, um, well, yeah…I quit reading half-way through your post. Way too annoying for me this time. I train communications public speaking, and we discuss “empty words.” You’re right. It’s a fill-in-the-blank trick while they figure out what to say. I did have a trainee, once, who finished every thought with, “Ya know what I mean?” Ugh. Tried to break her of it, but she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, stop.

  6. Julia says:

    I first heard this in the tv show Parenthood. Haddie Braverman, daughter of Adam & Kristina used to say this ALL the time. Drove me crazy.
    Watching Biggest Loser the last couple weeks it could have been a drinking game. Everytime Bob Harper starts a sentence with “I Mean…” DRINK! I would have been wasted 10 minutes into the show. I don’t get it.

  7. steve says:

    I have been noticing it on olympics interviews with the athletes. It is very annoying.

  8. Larry hansen says:

    I mean, politicians like do this all the time now.

  9. Brett says:

    Seemingly all race car drivers also start their interviews with ‘I mean…’
    Very annoying.

  10. Pingback: ANOTHER POST ON THE SUBJECT OF DIALOG? | Fantasy Author's Handbook

  11. Steve says:

    I mean (that’s the first time I ever use that in a sentence) I first noticed it a few years ago, and I googled the phrase to find this article thank you for bringing attention to it it’s silly, I mean

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