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What does it mean, when someone is alluding to quoted speech, and says to be all something? Is this just slang? For example:

"I'm all.. I don't think I'm gonna go".
"And he's all.. I think you should."

and etc...

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I am all.... is short for I am all like..., I believe. –  deutschZuid May 24 '12 at 5:40
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2 Answers 2

Meaning

This is Valley girl slang used to introduce quoted speech, also known as a quotative. It's a way of quoting a speaker by describing them according to their statement. It's similar to saying "he's like: [quote]", or "he goes: [quote]". "He's all: [quote]" can be read as "he was all like this: [quote]".

Here's an example from Do you speak American? (2005):

"So I'm all, 'I don't think I'm gonna go, ' and he's all, 'I think you should.' And I'm all, 'Why?' And he's all, ' 'Cause it'll be fun.' And I'm all, 'I don't think so.'"

The Handbook of Perceptual Dialectology, Volume 2 (2002) edited by Dennis Richard Preston and Daniel Long says:

Many of the others were general discourse markers which could be associated with the Valley girl image, such as you know, like, and I'm all (often used to introduce quoted speech). ... Californians seem to see their own speech in a fairly positive light, as natural and relaxed, but with its positive value tempered by the idea that it is also not 'accurate' speech in some sense, and that it reflects the negative aspects of the surfers and the Valley Girls.

Understanding English Grammar: A Linguistic Introduction (2010) by Thomas E. Payne explains:

Another way that these particular verbs are being adapted to new functions is that both of them can currently be used as quotative verbs, i.e., verbs introducing direct speech:

"Then he goes 'wassup with that?' And I'm all 'Thanks a lot!'" (from an Internet blog)

As you can see, go and be are very useful verbs that show all the signs of wear and tear one would expect of tools that are frequently used.

For more, see the "all used to introduce quotations" entry in The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage And Style (2005) that also says:

All these locutions can introduce a gesture or facial expression rather than a quotatin, as in He's all . . . followed by a shrug on the shoulders. Be all and be like can also preface a statement that sums up an attitude, as in "I'm all 'No way!'"

Early uses

It doesn't appear in the lyrics to the 1982 "Valley Girl" song or in the subtitles to the 1983 Valley Girl film, but it's in the 1995 film, Clueless:

This weekend he called me, and he's all, "Where were you today"?

The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English says:

all
be all
used as a quotative device to report a conversation US 1992
* - Conne Eble {Editor}, UNC-CH Campus Slang, p. 1, Spring 1992
* So I was all, "What's your problem?" And he's was all, "Nothing."
- Boogie Nights, 1997
* Gimme the money, motherfucker, and I'm all, No, and he's yelling.
- Lynn Breedlove, Godspeed, p.200, 2002

I did find a couple of antedatings from 1991.

Here's a 1991 letter from author Todd Borg to Time Magazine (date check: letters in the snippet are responses to the California Special Issue of Nov. 18, 1991):

Like, since moving here from Minneapolis, I'm all "What a way cool language they have here." And my lady's all "Yeah, but it's a way cooler place to hang. Let's go shreddin'." So I go, "Hon, I'm like totally, totally shred-ready. Get in my ride, and we'll go for a drive." And she goes, "We could catch a rad wave." And I'm all "Babe, I got slammed last time." And she's all "OK, let's just do tacos." Seriously, did you like talk to anyone out here?
Todd Borg
South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

The 1991 book Dope and Trouble: Portraits of Delinquent Youth (date check) is a collection of conversations between author Elliott Currie and teenagers spending time in one of California's juvenile-detention halls. It has many examples:

p.121

And she's all proud of me, she's all "Oh, maybe you're gonna be one of those few kids who grows out of it."

p.131

I got hit a couple of times. My mom knew about it, too. You know, but she like stayed out of it. She's all "Well, it's you and Tommie's problem."

p.163

She said three months. I said, "Baby, I'da quit." And she's all "Well, how can you tell me?" And I said, "I'm just telling you my advice." She said, "Well, how old are you?" I said, "How old do I look?" She said, "You look about nineteen." I told her I was nineteen, I said, "I've been smoking cocaine for three years, and you're thirty-two and you've only been smoking for two months. So think about it. " You know. Really. And she been smoking cocaine ever since.

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Earlier anecdotal evidence from oneirodynia: On a personal note, my friends and I all used "like" and "I'm all..." and "so I go..." in the '70's in the Bay Area. It wasn't unusual. And from potsmokinghippieoverlord: I went to high school in the late 70s in Orange County, CA, and I remember "like" and "he's all" and uptalking in conversations then. –  Hugo May 24 '12 at 10:57
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I found it a little difficult to decipher your question, but phrases like "He's all" and "I'm all" are slang for "He said" and "I said". If you want to use the slang, you can get away with the following:

I'm all, "I don't think I'm gonna go."

Then she was all, "I think you should go."

Then I was all, "Why? There ain't nothin there I like?"

Then she was all, "You like me, don't you?"

Then, damn, I was all, "Hell ya I like you. I'll go then."

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I think you're right – I'd merely add that I think "all" is used in place of "said" to imply something was spoken with a lot of emotion, as if someone is having a bit of a fit about something. Ergo, "Then she was all, 'Why not?'" is kind of like a shortened way of saying, "Then she was all over me, asking, 'Why not?'" Your dialogue, then, sounds like two in the midst of a spat. –  J.R. May 24 '12 at 8:36
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A lot of figures of speech turn out to be the result of elision. If I were to attempt to figure out what might have been elided from "He's all, "...," I might come up with an explanation like: He's all enthusiastic, saying, "..." Or maybe: He's all uptight, saying, "...". So maybe "all" in this case is adverbial for "say/said/saying". I'd imagine then that the way the quote is relayed, especially in person, somewhat implies the emotion present, for instance, while rolling eyes might imply "uptight", but smiling and waving hands about excitedly might imply "enthusiastic". –  Zahhar Nov 18 '12 at 14:00
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