Vanity Fair magazine (October 23 issue) carried an article titled, “A brief history of Michelle Obama career-goal rumors,” and wrote as follows under the caption, “She’s totally running in California.”

Rumors that the Obamas will relocate to Southern California have been around for some time. But the idea of her gearing up to replace Feinstein is somewhat novel. One of Richard Johnson’s unnamed sources offered this insight into politics in the Golden State: “It’s a shoo-in. A ham sandwich could get elected on the Democratic line in California.”** http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2014/10/michelle-obama-california-senate-future

I was drawn to the expression, “She’s totally running in California,” more than the figurative use of "a ham-sandwich."

Oxford Advanced Learners’ English Dictionary defines “totally” simply as “completely.”

Does “She’s totally running in California” mean Michelle Obama will completely, i.e. definitely / very likely run in California?

“She’s totally running” sounds a bit awkward to me. Is it common to use the word, ‘totally’ in this way?

  • This is totally a slang (teen-speak) usage and is used in the headline tongue-in-cheek for emphasis. If you're over about 25-30 (and I know you are ;-) ) don't try it or you'll, like, totally, look like a poser. – Jim Oct 25 '14 at 1:59
  • See also, "for sure". Not to be confused with that newfangled "totes". Somehow I now seem interested in headbands, jelly shoes, off the shoulder sweat shirts, and lots of neon clothing. Red leather jackets with zippers and black colored accents. Rubik's cubes. Big hair. Also anime with pac-man eyes. – SrJoven Oct 25 '14 at 2:27

It's a colloquial and rather hyperbolic usage which seems to be primarily intended to convey superficial enthusiasm and a sense of group affiliation rather than specific information. It's quite strongly associated with 'Valleyspeak', i.e. the teenage idiom that emerged in the San Fernando valley of California as long ago as the 1970s (see the relevant Wikipedia article).

Given the gossipy tone of the Vanity Fair piece, the choice of wording for the sub-heading seems to suggest that Michelle Obama would be a good fit for California. It also implies (to me, anyway) that the author of the article thinks of her as a political lightweight.

Other examples of the Valley girl-type usage of 'totally':

"I totally get what you're saying" = "I completely understand"
"He is totally hot!" = "He is very sexy!"
"That girl is totally trying to steal your boyfriend!" = "That girl is making every effort to steal your boyfriend!"
"Those shoes are totally vogue" = "Those shoes are very fashionable right now".

  • And from there, it's been further shortened to totes as in, "Those are totes adorbs." – Jim Oct 25 '14 at 2:18
  • = 'totally adorable". – Erik Kowal Oct 25 '14 at 2:19
  • Incidentally, "on the Democratic line" is not what you'd normally expect to encounter in this context. Much more likely would be "on the Democratic ticket". – Erik Kowal Oct 25 '14 at 2:35
  • Line referring to the line on the voting ballot is totally not unheard of though. books.google.com/ngrams/… – Jim Oct 25 '14 at 2:41
  • @Jim - True; but if your ngram is restricted to American English, the ratio shifts further towards 'ticket' (more like 4:1 for 'Democratic ticket' rather than the 2:1 of your ngram, and 6:1 for 'Republican ticket' versus 2:1). – Erik Kowal Oct 25 '14 at 3:42

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