More re: possible antedate of indiscriminative "whatever"?

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sat Jul 22 14:19:33 UTC 2006

On 7/22/06, Stephen Goranson <goranson at> wrote:
> Quoting Fred Shapiro <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>:
> > As I think about it, the now-voguish use actually has been around for a
> > while.  Think of "whatever" with the first syllable emphasized and the
> > first ayllable spoken slowly with an air of resignation.  This is the
> > precursor of the voguish usage, and probably goes back many decades.
> I think that the "voguish" use is expressed with accent on the first syllable
> sometimes and with accent on "ever" sometimes. Since the movie use in question
> is in a movie, someone perhaps can tell us where the accent falls in
> that case.

The locus classicus of voguish "whatever" is in the 1995 movie
_Clueless_, of course. There the accent is on "ever", with an emphatic
rise-fall intonation. Here's a clip where it's spoken by the character
Amber (played by Elisa Donovan):

Amber gives an accompanying "W" gesture using two fingers on each
hand, as can be seen here:

(That's from the companion site to last year's PBS documentary "Do You
Speak American?", wherein Robert MacNeil interrogates a group of SoCal
youths about the lasting impact of "Clueless" -- "whatever" as a
discourse marker, with or without the hand gesture, has had a lot of
staying power.)

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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