“I know, right?”

Last night I inadvertently watched a bit of America’s Top Modelon TV (on the CW network, which, I think, used to be either UPN or Warner TV or something–I’m trying to figure out what it has to do with country & western music). Young women were being interviewed by a celebrity panel about themed photo sessions for which they had posed.

One model was challenged about her lack of expression or involvement or the emotion in her face or something, and she accepted the validity of the challenge by responding, “I know, right?”

This is a locution I have only noticed in the past two years. I first heard it spoken by a really intelligent guy in my German 3 class last year. I understood what it meant, semantically, but the phrase deserves a bit of unpacking. When the phrase “I know” is used in English (that is, in just about all dialects of English worldwide), it signifies assent and acceptance of the point of view of a conversational partner. It’s a fairly confident assertion of acknowledgement, of agreement.

On the other hand, the questioning “right?” stuck onto the end of a sentence is a request of affirmation of an assertion and a simultaneous invitation to disagreement. Right? Don’t you think so? Do you agree with me?

So when a young speaker (and I’ve only heard this phrase used by speakers under the age of 25) combines the two, it seems to be a simultaneous assertion of confidence and an instant pulling back of that confidence so as not to seem too pushy. It seems to ask for a continuation of the conversation. If the interlocutors continue the conversation, it may branch into areas of disagreement, but so far they are of the same mind.

I tried to find a discussion of this on Language Log without success; likewise with Language Hat. But The Mot Juste contained a rather frustrated post deploring the spread of this phrase a couple years ago. EQ of The Mot Juste promises to answer it with a defiant, “no, you’re wrong. You obviously don’tknow, so don’t waste my time trying to convince me you do.”

But I don’t think that would actually happen in conversation, because I don’t think the phrase would be uttered if there weren’t already some basic agreement present in the conversation.

37 Responses to ““I know, right?””


  • I’ve not heard this – but given the situation you describe I wonder if right isn’t a shortening of “All right”, which adds more of a feeling of frustration. Like I already know this, all right?

  • I don’t think so. I know the vocal tag to which you refer. I sometimes hear it as “Okay?” or maybe “Okay!?” That tag does have the feeling of frustration.

    This one, I think, is much more casual. It really invites assent and suggests continuing the conversation. I couldn’t really tag it on to what I’m saying (typing) right now to you. You’d have to say something with which I agree, and then I’d just say, “Yeah, I know, right?”

  • Around me people usually use that phrase to shut you up if they think you’re talking too much or they wanna change the topic. Kinda like agree and move on.

  • I’ve found it’s the perfect phrase when someone says something absurd but true. It’s an indication that you agree and also find this fact interesting. I say it with a sort of “isn’t that funny” scrunch of the nose, and a half-laugh which makes the other person feel like they have a valid comment! I agree with your evaluation, it’s a funny phrase but it sounds perfectly natural in conversation, somehow.
    eg. “i like how you would rather walk to the other side of the building to access the elevator than walk up the stairs right next to the entrance” — “i know, right?”

  • “I know, right.” This is something I hear said in my office on a daily basis… it means… “I’m glad you recognize it, I agree with you… and you are smart to agree with me”… Just imagine a popular girl saying this to an unknown in highschool… and it’s said with a bit of attitude… I know (pause), right (question but w/ complete confidence)! I hope you all learned something today!

  • No, it’s not a “perfect phrase” in any setting, unless you want to expose the underdeveloped mindset of a teenage girl. What’s disturbing about these last two posts is I think both are in their twenties.

  • Larz: “What’s disturbing about these last two posts is I think both are in their twenties.”

    Yeah, I know, right? Gotta be in their twenties.

    I don’t understand, exactly, how you can draw that conclusion. They might be in their mid-teens. They might be over thirty.

    In any event, whether you love the phrase or not, I think Amanda has hit the nail on the head when she says it’s useful in response to a statement that’s “absurd but true.”

    In certain groups of speakers and in certain conversational contexts it really is a perfect response. Not among all speakers and in all contexts, to be sure.

    In my original post I was very careful not to deprecate or judge the use of this phrase. I find it curious, but hardly disturbing.

    I’m grateful to Amanda, in particular, for posting such a thoughtful analysis of the phrase. It’s been in widespread use for some time, so the genii is out of the bottle. Now I want to understand exactly how it is used and what it means.

  • Ugh, Dave. Careful not to judge the use of the phrase? Do you think that all words and expressions are of equal value? The phrase reeks of valley girl slang. It’s vapid and immature.

    Here’s the primary translation of “I know, right?”:

    “I want to agree with what you’re saying, but I’m not confident enough to merely state this, because I don’t want to come across as arrogant or as trying to dominate your comment. So, I will include a token act of humility along with my acknowledgment by deferring back to you, the original speaker, for the last word.”

  • I completely agree with Larz, only it seems to go even further in my office, particularly among women in their thirties! They seem to use it in every situation, almost as a badge of…culture, or something. Or conformity, more like it.

  • Just for the record, I hear guys use this curious pop-up phrase all the time. The America’s Nxt Top M- episode is my first memory of hearing it; I just heard it on How I Met Your Mother, spoken by a male character. As even a few days pass, it’s becomes more common; it’s like a cold in an office or daycare – everyone’s tainted by it eventually.

  • I dug around – it was supposedly said by Lyndsay Lohan in Mean Girls.

  • I’m 14 and my friends just told me that I say this. i didn’t really even notice. My friend said it was ‘cool how I said that’ which was weird because I hadn’t realised there was anything different about putting right on the end. It was actually in Mean Girls the film but I’m sure they got it from somewhere else.

  • To Larz and Scott, I would just say that I think most groups or sub-groups of speakers have little idiomatic tics that signify “inside language.” Hearing these phrases can be very annoying to outsiders who don’t use them in their own speech, but those outsiders undoubtedly have similar tics.

    Two that jump into my mind right off the bat (there’s an idiom that might annoy people who don’t use it) are these:

    “At the end of the day…”

    “In the final analysis…”

    I believe the former is a metaphor about which most speakers don’t reflect very much. (I am at the end of my school day as I type this. This is the moment when the phrase resonates with me.)

    The latter phrase seems to me to be an overstatement, since it’s usually uttered in the absence of any great in-depth analysis–certainly not after the ultimate analysis of an argument.

    “I know, right?” This might be annoying, but it’s impossible for me to call it “wrong.”

  • Heh, well, I guess I can’t argue with that. Oh, now I’m doing it. I mean, I really could argue if I tried…I give up.

    In my office I’m starting to hear the girls say “Yeah, right?” as often as “I know, right?”

  • Yeah, see? (Or I could even say, “I know, right?”)

    It’s very hard to get away from these things–even though they drive us up a wall sometimes!

  • The first time I heard this phrase was in the movie Juno. The character that used the phrase was a teen girl. She used the phrase to agree with an observation made by the teen’s father. The father said he didn’t feel his daughters dorky friend had the ability to impregnate his daughter. The teen friend responds with, “I know, right?”

    It is a phrase usually used when one is agreeing with another’s observation/opinion on a matter. One could say, “I agree” in place of “I know, right?” However, to respond to someone else’s observation with “I agree” may come across as giving one’s opinion when it was not specifically requested. By adding the, “right?” to the end of the sentence, one is agreeing but also deferring to the initial observation.

    “I know, right?” tends to be a phrase used in casual conversation. It holds a similar purpose as the use of the word “totally” in surfer speak and the usage of “word” as a statement of agreement in hip hop culture. It is slang, and it’s meant to be used in an informal manner. However, as is often the case with younger generations, the phrase is creeping over into more formal conversations. I think it is more easily co-opted than “totally” or “word” because on the surface it is harder to define it as slang than those other words.

  • Pardon the intrusion but I just had to comment on this phrase.
    I’m in my 30’s and I use it often enough. It is simply a slang phrase that isnt really meant to be taken seriously.
    It’s just an agreement of a statement and sometimes a segway to another topic. It’s like a conversation piece really.
    I started saying it because I picked it up from a friend who says it contstantly. It just happens.It’s not meant to be over-analyzed, but I suppose some people are just a little more anal than others about these things.
    I can think of worse phrases to get on peoples cases about.
    Does anyone remember the 80’s and how practically everyone fell victim to the word “Like”?
    Almost every other word is Like? It still hasnt really died. People still use it, just not as offensively. Next time you talk to someone, count how many times the word like tumbles from their mouth.
    And you REALLY wanna go after people with bad english, larz? Go talk to those people that say things like, “i’ll be over thurr” or “right hurr”. But apparently thats a regional thing.
    And larz, your “translation”? Just over-analyzation of something thats just a common conversational phrase that doesnt really “Mean” anything.

    Anyway, Dave, Good on you for exploring this phrase and whether or not you’ve embraced it I respect you for approaching this subject.

    Peace out, Big Ups, Have a nice one and last but not least…

    Later!

  • Thanks, Karen. I’m surprised that this post has gotten so much response, even now, over three years after I originally posted it.

    In the past three years I have continued my job teaching high-school German. I find that one of the hardest things to convey to students is the meaning of “particle words,” words that have no direct lexical translation into English vocabulary, but that are used to “spice up” sentences.

    I’m sure there are plenty of educated speakers of German who might object to the over-use of words like “mal,” “doch,” and “halt.” When we see videos of actual German teenagers speaking casually, it is easy to tell which kids overuse linguistic tics similar to “I know, right?”

    I cannot see myself ever telling my German-learners that these filler words are wrong, because I am not inside that language community. Instead, I simply try to help my students to understand the function of these words.

  • Heh, well, it’s been two years since I first found this post, and that phrase still drives me nuts. I say it to my wife in jest occasionally, but she knows I’m mocking everyone else who says it.

    It’s definitely something a man should never, ever say. (In my humble opinion.)

  • Scott Salsman: “It’s definitely something a man should never, ever say. (In my humble opinion.)”

    Okay, that’s the right attitude. ;-)

    But maybe very manly men can get away with it sometimes, or? Certainly hard-bitten baseball managers should never, ever use it, even ones who otherwise butcher the English language. (Interjected the blog-owner, trying to wrestle the discourse around to baseball, his new obsession…)

    Don’t worry, I hardly use the phrase, except with a tone of irony when speaking with my students.

  • I received the strangest look from my daughter when I used the phrase, “I know, right?” in a conversation with her. If my 10-year-old is any kind of coolness barometer when it comes to modern linguistics, Scott is correct: Men should not try too hard to use younger generational phrases in vogue.

  • Everyday I hear this in school. I CAN’T TAKE IT! MAKE UP YOUR MIND! DO YOU AGREE, OR DO YOU STILL NOT UNDERSTSAND!!!

  • This article is funny, right?! I noticed this phrase a few years back when I moved to California. I just figured it was a west coast thing or maybe a geek thing. I hated the phrase originally, then found myself using it, then finally came full circle to love it.

    To me, the phrase doesn’t make much sense, but it doesn’t matter. It’s friendly, right?

  • Interesting that this post was first published in 2007 mentioning having heard the phrase in the past two years (back to 2005!) and it’s still getting comments!

    (insert “I know, right!” here).

    Here’s my “I know, right” story:
    I was at a weeklong professional training course and a government-run training facility – I was walking to dinner and came up behind two females having a conversation.
    Female 1 would tell her story. Female 2 would reply “I know, right?” and then tell her own story. Then Female 1 would reply “I know, right?” and tell her story.

    I was behind these two females for maybe 3 minutes, and I must have heard “I know right?” about 4 times for each of them.

    I work with many females in their mid 30’s and mid 40’s, and some of them use the phrase. I’m not around many males, but I have heard a few use the phrase.

    To me, it’s an annoying phrase, but it’s become popular (And I admit I’ve used it) – much like “no big”, or “that is so…” – I’m guessing it originated from a TV show.

  • I am reading these posts because a 30-something friend picked up this affectation in the last two months. I have never heard it before she started using it, and I find it both curious and a bit annoying. I do like the explanation of a poster at another web site, who opined that it is actually an accusatory phrase, conveying agreement with an idea (“I know”) while letting the other pesron in the conversation know that the interlocatur had the idea first and the other person co-opted the idea (“right?”). As in, “Yes, I agree and I already thought. I’ll let you have it – just letting you know I was there before you.” I thought that was funny, so imma go with that.

  • Well, I fractured my entry above in my haste. I meant to write that, like all of you here, I decided to learn something about the origins of the phrase after my friend picked it up. I was surprised to learn it is at least four years old. Popular culture takes a while to get to Pittsburgh. Also meant to write, “Yes, I agree and I already thought that.” Apologies.

  • A character in the movie “Mean Girls” (2004) says “I know, right?” Could have started being popularized here.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0377092/quotes

  • As a male in my late 40’s I have born witness to many such phrases which have insidiously burrowed themselves into conversational mainstream culture. One could easily argue that such phrases serve as a conversational crutch for those whose vocabularies are effectively held hostage. As technology threatens to siphon our collective attention spans into a collective black hole, so do these phrases limit our modes of conversational expression. It is up to society to police itself so that its verbal IQ does not become a parody of itself…..and that’s the bottom line ;)

  • Well said, Dave!

  • I just stumbled onto this sight because I was also curious about the origin of this annoying phrase. My ex-wife says it way too often. I think that is what put it on my radar. I live in the midwest. I know things tend to reach us a bit later than the rest of the country. The phrase seems to be snow-balling though. I’ve heard it on TV a lot more often in the last year. I hope it fades away at some point.

  • Almost four years after her post, I would say that the comment posted by Amanda captures the true essence of the phrase, “I know, right?” – That its meaning is more along the lines of “Isn’t that funny (or quirky),” or “Yes, I’ve noticed that, too,” about whatever particular subject matter is being discussed. It can be used to validate what another person is expressing, rather than suggesting a lack of confidence on the part of the speaker or a request for validation of one’s assertions. I suppose it depends on the context and the overall annoyance factor of the person using the phrase, but I do not believe this is a phrase reserved for use by immature, vapid teenage girls. Personally, I have used the phase a mere handful of times, and then, only in conversation with a very close friend when expressing agreement with a statement – like a sharing of observations on a particular matter.

  • I started hearing his phrase three years ago at work, overhearing a conversation between a 30-something female and a 37-year-old man. I found it very annoying. I find that co-workers adjust their language so that they use that phrase only when speaking with certain people, and never in a formal setting (meeting, conference call with a customer).

  • Four years after it began, people like me are still commenting on this blog subject. I found this because I was curious about this phrase and hopefully, I can put forth my opinion without angering anyone.

    Personally, I think people who say “I know, right?” are either unwitting copycats (just like living in one area long enough to unintentionally or unconsciously begin sounding like a native) or they are just trying to fit in with the “rest of the crowd.” When I ask people (usually of an under-30 set) why they use the phrase, very few of these folks admit they are just doing it because their peers are doing it; instead, most of them come up with an explanation for it that, to an educated person, is as nonsensical as the phrase itself. Someone who initially appears intelligent to me can, frankly, ruin that impression by saying “I know, right?” (I have a neighbor who skips the “I know” part and just responds to most statements with a simple “Right?”) As far as I’m concerned, this is just part of the “dumbing down” of modern society, a process that includes a frightening amount of mind-numbing movies, television shows and music that people enjoy pretty much because their friends enjoy them… and don’t get me started on what texting does to people’s grammar and spelling (not to mention the LOL thing)!

    Here’s what “I know, right?” says to me: first, the user is saying “I know,” indicating they have knowledge about the particular subject we are discussing. Well, I’ll take their word for it, since I’m not a mind reader. Then, they ask me a question: “Right?” Apparently, they are asking me to personally confirm that they know about our subject– but as I said, I’m not a mind reader, so I just tell them that I don’t know.

    (If I’m talking to someone who is known to use the “I know, right?” thing, I use a special phrase of my own: “I am aware of this, correct?” It means the same thing—right?)

    I realize where the fundamental problem with this cliché lies—- it’s in the ending. When the intonation rises at the end, it becomes a question (“Right?”). If, instead, the intonation were to fall, it would become a statement ending in a period (“Right.”). This way, the speaker would inform me that they have knowledge about our subject (“I know.”) and thus, can confirm what I’m saying is true (“Right.”); this makes it a two-part phrase (“I know. Right.”) that is more intelligent and bearable than the one I always hear.

    I’ll admit I’ve used some mighty dumb sayings in my lifetime, but I hope I live long enough to see the day when it’s no longer fashionable to say “I know, right?,” start every sentence with “Dude,” and wear “North Face” jackets (where I live, I lot of people spend a lot of money on those jackets because others are doing the same thing) so that all of these lemmings can find some other annoying trend to follow… and boy, I can’t wait to see what that trend will be.

  • An interesting little shift in our language and perhaps we should embrace it. Still it sounds odd…almost forced. I have a feeling the well-worn phrase “yeah right” started out this same way and people have just said it so much that it has become accepted. To my ears, “yeah right” sounds like sarcasm and I’m confident that “I know right” is also destined to be so.

  • @Jeff I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds it annoying.

  • The way I have heard the phrase (with rising intonation of “right” it is a way of saying “you are not telling me a fact I don’t already know, and there is a meaning in, or implication to this fact which I understand and I believe you do too. We are on the same page, and so it seems that we have a bond and don’t have to worry that one of us is actually thinking for himself/herself, god forbid”.

  • The phrase is just now catching on in Michigan, where I work part-time at a retail company with a lot of college students.

    Men and women use it frequently. I started, too, and I’m 50!

    I’m a writer/editor by trade, and I like it. It does signify agreement, is very informal, and it is a way of bonding by expressing being “on the same page” about anything previously said.

    It doesn’t necessarily refer to something the speaker of it knows, but agrees with in general. I like it because it is a bonding phrase and shows that the person who said it enjoyed what you said.

    Bonding is just a human thing to do, and regardless of whether you think it signifies being a “lemming”, it is part of the natural urge to connect with people. It’s harmless, fun, and it means something to those who use it–or clearly it would not be used.

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