There was the following sentence in an article titled, “Like, Degrading the Language? No Way” in New York Times (April 5), in which the author says Americans are moving backward on language:

“(Like the use of ‘like’) the use of “totally” mines the same vein. “He’s totally going to call you” does not mean “He is going to call you in a total fashion.” It has a more specific meaning, although only handled subconsciously by speakers, as so much of language is. “He’s totally going to call you” contains an implication: that someone has said otherwise or that the chances of it may seem slim at first glance but in fact aren’t. As with “like,” “totally” tracks and nods to the opinions of others. It’s totally civilized.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/opinion/sunday/like-degrading-the-language-no-way.html?hp&rref=opinion

Although the author explains “totally going to call you” contains an implication of someone having said otherwise, I’m not still clear with the meaning of “He’s totally going to call you.”

What does it mean? He’s totally going to call you “what”?

How does “He’s totally going to call you.” differ from “He’s going to call you.”? Is this expression (use of totally) ubiquitous today as the author asserts?

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    'Totally' is a sentence adverb that means that 'I am extremely sure that...'. "He's totally going to call you" -> "I am extremely sure that he's going to call you".
    – Mitch
    Apr 7, 2014 at 0:39
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    "He’s totally going to call you “what”?" On the phone. He's totally going to call you on the phone.
    – user1635
    Apr 7, 2014 at 4:06
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    I read the “totally” as a way of conveying the sarcasm, as in “He’s going to call you not.”. Disclaimer: I have ESL.
    – kinokijuf
    Apr 7, 2014 at 7:22
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    It just means the person making the statement has a horrendous understanding of the English language.
    – jwenting
    Apr 7, 2014 at 8:42
  • This remind me of overuse of the word, “超-chaw” meaning ‘super’ among Japanese youths to middle-aged in their daily conversation. They inserts ‘chaw’ as an affix to most of words, like “Chaw-kirei (super-beautiful),” “Chaw-kawaii,” “Chaw-dasai (super-boorish),” “Chaw-yabai (super-embarrassing.) Chaw itself is a meaning word, and chaw-annoying to the elderly’s’ ear. Frequent use of “totally” and “like” may have its own reason and purpose, but abuse of “Chaw” among Japanese youths and the middle-aged seems a meaningless and embarrassing phenomenon to me. Apr 7, 2014 at 8:51

4 Answers 4


totally - adverb: completely; absolutely.

In my experience, young people often like, among other thing, to belong and to hyperbolize.

A sense of belonging can be created by having a jargon; young people pick up on and use jargon to self-identify. The further from the speech of their parents, often the better.

Totally serves both purposes; it's jargon, and it's hyperbolic. Someone is into you? He's totally into you. Someone is going to call? He's totally going to call. It's totally worth using it for everything.

Edited to add: I have a minor disagreement with the NYT writer. He sounds like a grumpy old grammar teacher complaining about how the language has gone downhill, as the writer of this book: Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care. I don't think totally as an implication of the opposite. If there is any hint of that, it's in the fact that totally can be used to reassure.

Don't say that; Hunter totally thinks you're the one.


It means that it is absolutely certain he is going to call you, unless it's said ironically, in which case hell will freeze over before he calls you. This is valley speak, for sure.

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    'he is going to call you' is absolute. 'totally' adds an element of doubt. Even said unironically the statement is LESS certain with the word than without.
    – JamesRyan
    Apr 7, 2014 at 10:26
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    It's not about expressing the certainty of the belief that he's going to call; it's about expressing the vehemence of that belief. Apr 7, 2014 at 10:46

What does it mean? He’s totally going to call you “what”?

This is call in the sense of “(tele)phone, place a (tele)phone call to”, so there's no additional complement. (Compare “He’s totally going to e-mail you.”)

How does “He’s totally going to call you” differ from “He’s going to call you”?

(FTFY) It's an expression of certainty and emphasis, similar to absolutely, certainly, really, and truly.

Note that, although the writer you quote does not mention this, it's frequently used sarcastically or ironically: without context, I would take “He’s totally going to call you” to mean “Sorry, but he’s probably not going to call you!”

  • ruakh. How can I reconcile your ending line “without context, I would take he’s totally going to call you” to mean “Sorry, but he’s probably not going to call you!” with the definition, 'compeletely, absolutely' meaning 100% given by medica? Apr 7, 2014 at 1:38
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    @YoichiOishi: See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcasm, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony#Verbal_irony. The idea is that, by overly emphasizing the truth of a statement, we can imply that it's actually not true.
    – ruakh
    Apr 7, 2014 at 5:16

More than just being an expression of certainty and emphasis, in this case “totally” implies reassurance in a way that saying “He's certainly going to call you” would not. While I cannot be absolutely certain without more context, it is likely that the proposition “He's going to call you” is something that the listener would be inclined to doubt, which is why the speaker felt it necessary to add the extra measure of reassurance.

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