February 3, 2014

I Can’t With “I Can’t Even” Anymore

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For whatever reason, people these days just can’t. In fact, they just can’t so much that after a while they can’t even. This may continue to a point of culmination when they finally can’t even deal. Like, literally, they can’t. It’s gotten so bad that I’m to the point now where I also can’t. I mean, I literally can’t even deal.

And with so many unfortunate souls out there who can’t, we must ask the question: are there any of us out there who can?

The “I can’t” and “can’t even” vernacular has turned into something of a phenomenon. If you said one of these phrases around most 18-25 year old girls, it would actually be accepted. It took center stage recently when Kacey Musgraves won a Grammy and repeatedly couldn’t even. While it makes zero sense and indicates maybe a complete sentence was just too tough to process, we’ve actually welcomed it as a colloquial phrase.

Step back for a second and think about that. We have succumbed to the idea that these phrases indicate complete thoughts. And that is something with which I cannot deal.

Let’s face it, words are hard. Try as we might, we don’t always reek of eloquence. We get vomit of the mouth, foot-in-mouth, and our brains just work faster than our mouths. We’ve been on a crash course for a while, and now I think we’ve hit rock bottom. We’ve finally reached the point where we don’t even feel the need to complete our thoughts, we get halfway through and feel like we still communicated something. I mean, if you heard someone say, as you probably often do, “I can’t” or “I just can’t” and leave it at that, what would you guess was their reading level? Would you assume you could have an engaging conversation with them? Would you expect them to be insightful or the least bit interesting? At the risk of making a sweeping generalization, you’d be more expectant of a fairly privileged girl obsessed with her own vapidity.

When you see someone tweet or hear them say “I can’t even” or something of the like, there are a few appropriate canned responses:

“Can’t even what? Complete a thought?”


“Can’t remember multi-syllabic words?”


“Can’t command your native language?”

They seem harsh but are applicable. You see, it isn’t that people who utter these phrases are imbecilic. In fact, they don’t seem ignorant at all, but instead suffer from elocutive laziness. I’m reminded of the Taylor Mali poem “Totally like whatever, you know?”, which begins, “In case you hadn’t noticed / it has somehow become uncool / to sound like you know what you’re talking about?” Mali, an award winning slam poet, rails against inarticulateness with the simple point that we should want to speak with conviction. We should want to sound like we know what we’re talking about. We should, to paraphrase Mali, say what we believe in a manner that bespeaks the determination with which we believe it.

To not attempt articulation, let alone completing sentences, is to make a mockery of ourselves — to make a mockery of our own education and our own minds. You may think that is hyperbolic but you can’t underscore the importance of effective communication. Nobody’s saying you need to drop everything to develop a vocabulary rivaling David Foster Wallace, but can we at least complete our own sentences? Can we at least speak with enough declaration that our thoughts are complete and not just recurring fragments? Or do we have to trudge on through conversations rife with parenthetical interrogatives?

So if you find yourself in a troubling position where you can’t even, I implore you to slow down and speak with enough declaration so that your thoughts are complete and not just recurring fragments. Our thought patterns should look more like flow charts and less like a dot plot, lacking any sort of connection. It sounds exaggerated, but we really do have a moral imperative to communicate well. If we respect ourselves and the people we speak with, we should strive to speak in a way that shows we actually value that communication. If someone lends an ear, don’t punish them. If we can get a handle on this idea, I look forward to the day in the not so distant future when we even can. TC mark

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