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In the Midwest, I notice that some people substitute the word 'says' with 'goes' and this has always bothered me. For example, I will hear someone say something such as "So my mother goes, "you should drink water instead of soda."" instead of "So my mother says, "you should drink water instead of soda."".

Is this simply bad English?

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    Similarly almost every English speaking youth on planet earth is like "And I was like "xyz", and he was like "bla-bla-bla", and then I was like "blo-blo-blo". - The question is, what register of language are you speaking about? In a written piece of text such a newspaper article, an official report, a polite letter to your grandparents you would not use those very casual, oral expressions. If you are writing drama and you want to show youngster in their ordinary attitude, you would write it. – Christian Geiselmann Oct 8 '18 at 11:44
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    @ChristianGeiselmann I question your implication that politeness be associated with letters to grandparents. You have an ageless, idealised image of the species. What age are we living in? I am a grandparent, and my grandchildren do not write me letters but send texts and emails. And the idea that they would be more "polite" with me than with anyone else, to the extent of not saying "My mum, she goes..." is laughable. – WS2 Oct 8 '18 at 12:33
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    It is not something I'd put into a college essay or a job questionnaire, but it is certainly English, and it does say something comprehensible in a way suited to expressing an attitude and a milieu. I certainly would not characterize it as bad, just informal. – Robusto Oct 8 '18 at 13:00
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    @WS2 I am sorry that your grandchildren do not write polite letters to you. I did not mean to claim that all letters written by grandchildren to grandparents are or have to be a priori polite. I just wanted to give examples for situations where "and he was like x, and she was like y" would probably not be used, and therefore I specificed also a "polite letter" (as opposed to "a casual letter"). Anyway, would you find it polite to use "And I was like x, and she was like y."? Or do you have objections against the concept of politeness in general? – Christian Geiselmann Oct 8 '18 at 14:44
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    Note that 'goes' is followed by an imitation/impression of the speaker -- there is more going on than just 'saying'. – AmI Oct 8 '18 at 18:29
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The OED calls that usage of go colloquial. It's a logical extension of the more correct usage of "go" defined as "produced sound" (i.e. "the firecracker went 'bang'"). This usage goes all the way back to the 16th century.

It's interesting to note that the earlier examples it gives refer to people making vocalizations that are not entirely words, i.e. "‘Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoe,’ went the first boy." So it seems like using "goes" instead of "says" is something that is increasing in common usage, at least in informal situations.

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    Sorry, I misread one of the entries. – Steven Burnap Aug 7 at 21:48
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It depends how you define 'bad'. Languages evolve, and as Janus Bahs Jacquet mentioned in comments "Pop! Says the weasel" doesn't have the right ring to it.

Where you are talking about someone/something expressing a noise (speech, sound, etc), then 'goes' has a similar understood meaning to says (perhaps not a fomal OED definition.

It also depends on the sentence. 'James goes to the shops' is obviously correct vs 'James says to the shops'. So you cannot apply a general rule that 'goes' is a bad/incorrect word to use it.

If bad referes to formality, then using 'goes' is certinaly not correct in the formal sense of the English language.

However, in the example you gave, regardless of which you use, the meaning and intent of the statement is the same. As such it could be considered interchangeable dependant on the formality you are trying to convey or your familiarity with the other party(s) in the conversation.

  • Doesn't this use of goes, in addition to being informal, imply certain dismissiveness of what has been said? For example, doesn't the choice of goes instead of says, in the OP's example, convey the young speaker's view that the mother's advice is somewhat annoying, and that it is not worthy of being taken seriously? – jsw29 Dec 15 '18 at 16:46
  • This is simply an idiom of speech, possibly qualifying as juvenile slang. – KayCee Apr 5 at 15:12
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It really depends on the level of perfection that you want to measure up those statements. Both statements meet the fundamentals of communication to convey the message; however, if you are more concerned about correctness in the use of language, "goes" is not the proper verb to use but merely slang that is replacing "says." Having said that, if you are concerned about some members of your readership not knowing the slang term "goes," which may cause confusion, I would stick to using "says" consistently.

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