August 03, 2007


Melissa McEwan, writing about the milblogger fuss at TNR:

And I don't give a rat's ass if Beauchamp is married to someone who works at TNR. Wev.

"Wev" as an abbreviation for for "whatever" is new to me, but a quick search of weblogs makes me feel out of it. "Wev" is not very common, but it's widely distributed around the world, and it's been out there for a while:

Is it boring to listen to my stream-of-consciousness? It must be, or I would have more readers! However, this blog is fun, regardless, so wev.

(Gotta love that paranoid chipmunk...except that it's really a prairie dog, but wev.) .

Just my opinion though mind you, so wev.

I've only missed this one day so far, and I could do those tests asleep and I have an A already before the extra credit, so wev.

(I did this one over a year ago, but wev.)

HAH. ok wev...moving on.

But, wev. It's done.

Kai von Fintel has analyzed the semantics of standard English Whatever, but I'm not sure whether anyone has documented in detail the process whereby traditional whatever evolved into the now-common stand-alone expression.

The OED "draft additions September 2001" traces it back to 1973:

whatever, pron. and a.

* int. colloq. (orig. U.S.). Usually as a response, suggesting the speaker's reluctance to engage or argue, and hence often implying passive acceptance or tacit acquiescence; also used more pointedly to express indifference, indecision, impatience, scepticism, etc.: 'as you wish'; 'if you say so'; 'it makes no difference to me'; 'have it your own way'; 'fine'.

1973 To our Returned Prisoners of War (U.S. Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs) 10 Whatever, equivalent to 'that's what I meant'. Usually implies boredom with topic or lack of concern for a precise definition of meaning. 1982 San Francisco Examiner 7 May A3 When someone responds 'whatever', he or she seems to be saying 'I'm amenable to anything. I'll defer to you.' But in my experience, when a person says 'whatever', he or she is really saying, 'I don't want to take any responsibility. You do all of the deciding and then I'll pass judgment.' 1986 D. A. DYE Platoon (1987) iii. 21 Feed any of these guys a full-scale briefing..and you'd get the same response: "Yeah, right. Whatever, man, whatever". 1990 G. G. LIDDY Monkey Handlers iv. 53 Levin gave a mirthless smile. 'The Heads from Hell. They wear embroidered signs on the back of vests.'.. 'Colors,' Stone interjected. 'Whatever,' said Levin. 'You'll be able to tell them by it.' 1995 New Yorker 16 Oct. 131/2 You get to the point where it would be foolish to be surprised at anything. A sports bar opens. Then it closes. Whatever. 1998 Village Voice (N.Y.) 21 July 28/1 If someone came running to say he'd just seen Jesus preaching on the steps of the 72nd Street subway stop, most New Yorkers would reply, 'Whatever'. 2000 D. WAUGH in J. Adams et al. Girls' Night In 529 The secretary admitted that the list had been 'temporarily mislaid'. Whatever.

But there's a somewhat different syntactic form involved in examples with connectives like so and but-- stand-alone whatever (or wev, whatever) is getting re-integrated with propositional force into larger structures, meaning something like "I don't care" or "it doesn't matter" or "that's OK":

You probably didn't care to hear any of that, but I'm kinda high off the crafting I've been doing this evening, so whatever.
Hardly a precise way to tune, but then the principal oboe is the boss, so whatever.
It was his sister-in-law though, so whatever.
I asked for a Heineken, but whatever.
It comes from Jason, who admits it might be a little busy, but whatever.
Toni's rushing me as always but whatever.
I was gonna say the truth, but whatever.
The quality is so unbearable. Still, it might not be for you so whatever, but still I'd say give it another chance.
i dont really care though so whatever if im a loser!
i was at work later than i planned, but whatever because it's not like i have anywhere to be.
Okay, you know, I love to sit in a booth at a restaurant, but whatever, since I like to hang out with her and this is the best way to do it.
After yoga, I decided to go running for half an hour, which was of course the exact opposite of what I should have done, but whatever, because Sam's Mom's and my favorite movie of the last decade, Galaxy Quest was on the television in front of my treadmill.

Another historical question: was the reduction from "whatever" to "wev" purely phonological (as in the pronunciation of "Worcester"), or did it start as an IM or SMS short form? I'd guess that it's the latter, but I haven't been able to find any evidence.

[Update -- Topher Cooper writes:

Unless I'm inserting a (slightly) later idiom for some other single word with identical meaning, I'm pretty sure that this use of "whatever" was a regular bit on "All in the Family". Archie would garble someone's name, confuse facts about their ethnicity, religion, political beliefs etc.. They would correct him with obvious affront, to which Archie would reply -- you guessed it -- with a long suffering "Whatevah!" Don't know when this bit was introduced so I don't know whether it predated the earliest OED citation (IMDB says the show ran from '71 to '79) but I'm willing to bet (a bet I'm unlikely to lose since we are unlikely to have enough evidence to prove anything one way or another) that this spread and popularized the expression.

I also associate this with "Valley Speak" of the late 70's and the Wikipedia article on "Valspeak" backs this up as a typical expression (spelled there as "what-ever" to imply something of the intonation).

It's likely that the isolated "whatever" comes from the phrase "whatever you say" which has pretty much identical meaning.

Archie Bunker, Valley Girl. I like it.]

[Ben Zimmer writes:

Most likely "wev" formed through a process of clipping, whatever -> whatev(s) -> wev. "Whatev" and "whatevs" are well-attested online, with the latter owing much of its popularity to, a blog that started up in early 2002. For more on "whatevs" and similar forms popular in the blogosphere (like "obvs"), see this post.

Certainly there are plenty of uses of "wevs" out there:

I didnt want to go because Im a whiny pms girl but wevs it was fun.
I think he is gross, but wevs.
She'll probably tell Beth and Bob that I'm a horrible person, but Bob doesn't really like me anyway since I'm Catholic so wevs.


[Lauren Squires writes:

It seems like Ben's answer is right, but maybe with an additional point: in IM, text, etc., people often break up words with two+ syllables (or compound words) and somehow note the syllable/word break with punctuation marks. Some obvious examples are b/c (because) and w/o (without) (I realize these conventions may precede or have evolved independently of computer-mediated communication, but that's not really relevant here). UrbanDictionary also gives w/e as a form of 'whatever', and it also gives w/ever. So I am guessing that one additional step in Ben's clipping process as outlined is the breaking up of [what] and [ever], and the abbreviation of both (keeping the "ev" as in "wev" rather than coming all the way down to "we" is probably a matter of avoiding ambiguity).


[Aviad Eilam writes:

There has in fact been some work on discourse marker "whatever" (I know due to my work on the formal semantics of the Hebrew counterpart to standard "whatever"):

Blake, Renee, Maryam Bakht-Rofheart, Stefan Benus, Sabrina Cooper, Meredith Josey, Erica Solyom. 1999. "'I have three words for you...': Whatever as a discourse marker." Paper presented at NWAV 1999.

Also, perhaps some support for the hypothesis that the isolated "whatever" derives from the phrase "whatever you say" is the fact that the Hebrew equivalent is "what you say". Unlike a simple definite description, the latter has to have high pitch/intensity on the wh-word to get the -ever component. Maybe the fact that there is no lexical marker of -ever prevents the form from being reduced, as arguably happened in English.

Another paper from the same group is "'WHAT-EV-ER': More than just a gendered discourse marker," presented at the International Gender and Language Association (IGALA) Conference in 2000. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, neither paper is on line or has been published anywhere accessible. It's too bad that the field of linguistics hasn't developed the norms of open-access online archiving that are routine in mathematics and physics. ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at August 3, 2007 07:44 AM