Those three little words…

     There are three words that comprise an expression that are very near and dear to my heart. People like hearing it, I like saying it, and I like having people say it to me.

     I’m talking, of course, about “I know, right?”

      I don’t know if it’s a Northeastern thing in America, but until I moved to these parts in 2005 I had never been exposed to the phrase, “I know, right?” or “Right?” for short. The phrase has been around circa 2003, I believe. Apparently it was very prevalent in the movie Mean Girls, which Tina Fey wrote and starred in (2004); and she’s from New York so I think I’ve just answered my question about one of its possible origins.

     Anyway. Upon hearing this phrase the first few times from various New Yorkers, including my first roommate (who was from Ohio but had been living in New York for a few years already), I latched onto it immediately and it became a permanent part of my lexicon. (What’s a lexicon?)

     Let’s break it down. It’s not just saying “I know,” which in and of itself is simplistic and also affirming. It’s adding the “right?” at the end; in combination with “I know,” the “right?” gives the phrase a lovely redundancy and succeeds in creating more conversation between two people – or at the very least, tying up a dialogue nicely.

    For those of you who may not have heard of this expression – not only am I impressed but welcome! – there are a few ways to use it. The differences may be subtle, but they are there. Click here to see Urban Dictionary’s take on the definitions. I think what I like most about it is that while yes, you can use it as a generic statement of agreement, Definition 3 of saying it’s a way to relate to a preceding statement is how I like to use it best. For example, if you say to me, “God, I can’t find a single store carrying the Tickle Me Elmo doll,” I can say to you, “I know, right? I went to five different places myself yesterday.” It’s a phrase that extends comraderie and now you and I can perhaps find other things we have in common, as well.

     The shortened “Right?” is great to use with both people you know very well and those you don’t, such as colleagues. I have personally used this at work with my own bosses and there is no mistaking its meaning. It does speak of my age and generation, yes, but my putting it out there demonstrates that I believe they, too, can get in on it and understand me without looking at me like I just used some very inappropriate slang (like maybe saying, “That’s fuckin’ dope” to something positive they tell me).

If ever a facial expression existed for "I know, right?" it's this one.

The classic "I know, right?" facial expression.

    It’s a way to bring someone in on something and close any relational gaps just a bit further. On the other hand, if you use it amongst your friends or family, it’s just utilizing a modern phrase of agreement that is casual and friendly. I believe my friend David can attest to the fact that he himself did not start using “I know, right?” until I had begun using it with him on enough occasions after I’d moved here that he noticed and asked me about it. He also appreciated it and began spreading it to his fellow West Coasters. I even remember him telling me that it had trickled into his girlfriend’s (now wife’s) vocabulary. I’m going to detail for you here two situations from my own life of its use so those of you who are still getting accustomed to it can fully grasp how to begin spreading it in your own groups:

Gchat between myself and David, September 18:

David: Still have just under half a tank. Totally saving money.
Me: Which is excellent. More money to spend on sweaters for Chip.
David: Right?

     That particular Chat is taken totally out of context and it would take a lot to explain why his saving money on gas can buy future sweaters for Chip. Chip’s his dog. But you get the point. It just slides right on in there. He can agree with me or at least just give credence to my statement (if not a “haha”) and then we can easily shift topics.

     This morning at work, I noticed that my office manager who has been out for a week or two was back. I heard her talking and walked past Reception, saying to our lovely Reception guy, “Shirley* is back in the office!” He immediately replied, “I know, right?”

     Up until now I don’t think I would have thought that the phrase could be used for such a benign observation such as that, but it worked. It pertained. It was apt. The meaning of his “I know, right?” could have been anything from “Yeah, I really have to be more careful now at the office,” to “Yeah, I didn’t know she was here at first, either.” A little subtle but it still worked.

     Here’s a photo whose caption is merely, “I KNOW RIGHT?” This makes use of the subtlest use of the phrase, because a person doesn’t even have to do or say anything sometimes when you show them something outrageous or funny. You can just say “I know, right?!” while you wait for them to react. Exhibit A: a Hello Kitty shaped exhaust pipe. IT BEGS TO BE SAID! If you’re like me, you’ve said like this in your head, “I KNOOOOOOW, RIGHT?!”

     “I know, right?” breaks down barriers. It brings people closer together. Won’t you try it out? Won’t you get to know your neighbor? It gets you through lots of situations, even with total strangers in an elevator. Someone can say something very small-talkish like, “It’s getting colder out…pretty soon it’s gonna be dark at 5.” Bam. You have your instant response without having to elaborate. You whip it out smoothly:

     “I know, right? The winter coat’s comin’ out in the near future.” Ding! You get off at your floor. You have avoided any awkward silence and appear to have social skills. Nobody has to know if you’re introverted and shy to the point of being terrified of any human interaction. “I know, right?” or “Right?” is there to save you.

     Use it. Don’t let it get dusty, folks. It might have started out pretty vaguely and kept to a smaller geographic region, but let’s face it – it’s here to stay.


*Name was changed.

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