i.e. "So then she goes, 'Hey!' and I go, 'What?' because I was on my way out..."

I was musing about this the other day, so I decided to try to find out. Unfortunately, my skills lie in different areas than language research.

My instincts tell me that this is an outgrowth of hippie culture in the West during the late 60's, but I have no proof of this at all. I remember being in elementary school in the 80's and my teachers would absolutely flip out over this construction and lecture "People don't GO, Brian. People SAY." Lecturing notwithstanding, listening to students at recess revealed many students 'going' this or that.

It seems now to be relatively accepted in spoken English, though not written. It also seems to apply to a wider range of use cases than say, e.g.:

"So he goes (makes face like a duck) and then..."

So, it kind of has taken on a meaning of 'to communicate, to embody a message, to say' as well as to literally move from one place to another. At least it has in the midwest...is this in use anywhere else in the US?

  • 2
    See also: Indirect, quoted speech: He's all
    – Hugo
    Nov 14, 2012 at 20:46
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    Reminds me of the Kylie Mole (Kylie Minogue impersonation character on Comedy Company) saying "She goes, she goes, she just goes." Using "Go" for every conceivable action is lazy, sometimes relating to a poor standard of education. The next stage of the "Go" pattern is that people don't say anything useful at all and use the word "go" for almost everything whilst making faces or hand movements to indicate what the real action was.
    – Chris
    Nov 14, 2012 at 22:38
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    @Chris Agreed. That, I'm sure, is why my teachers didn't like it. It enables expressive, if not intellectual laziness. On the other hand, as FumbleFingers notes on Lawler's answer below and Hugo above, in many ways we embody our message, i.e. we can 'be all' <message>. That, in essence is (I think) what Lawler was getting at with the metaphorical topics he brought to the table.
    – atroon
    Nov 15, 2012 at 16:22

2 Answers 2


Nobody can say when -- or where, or by whom -- this usage came into existence. It's probably been around in one guise or another, in English and its ancestor languages, for thousands of years, because it instantiates a widely used and very important Metaphor Theme. There are a number of concepts converging here.

Go is used because it's part of the Path Metaphor for communication (which in turn is part of the Conduit Metaphor theme).

Go (a Deictic term, semantically related to come, bring, and take) means, initially, to move away from where one currently is located. Maybe directed toward someone else, or maybe just out.

Messages of all sorts go forth from a source. In particular, sounds go forth. Go is often used in children's language to refer to the stylized sounds that common animals make:

  • Cows go "moo", dogs go "bow-wow", cats go "meow", ...

So it's a very small step from

  • The dog goes "Woof!", and he goes "Ouch!", and I go "What!?"


  • He goes "I'm not sure we should see each other any more" and I go "What do you mean?"

and in fact, just another small step from there to

  • He's like "I'm not sure we should see each other any more" and I'm like "What do you mean?"
  • 2
    Yes, but if it sounds better with like, then that's part of the construction. When a new construction metamorphoses from a phrase or string, it's like an adult butterfly metamorphosing from the juvenile inside the chrysalis -- old boundaries get melted down and tissues get reorganized for new purposes. So the original syntax becomes largely irrelevant, as it has with hasta, wanna, coulda, woulda, shoulda, useta, oughta, and so on. Nov 14, 2012 at 18:05
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    I hadn't thought of it like that. I suppose the implication is that in a generation or two the I'm like "blah-blah" form might feasibly end up dispensing with like completely. On the other hand, perhaps people might even discard the 'm part and start treating like as if it's the verb. Nov 14, 2012 at 18:11
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    I never predict anything, especially the future. Nov 14, 2012 at 18:42
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    That exclusion of "I'm" from "I'm like..." already existed in the 80's with the valley girl (from California) expression, for example: "Like, gag me with a spoon!" Nov 14, 2012 at 19:41
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    Purely awesome. I suppose I was thinking of the metaphors and the underlying constructs, and I did think of the "He's like..." construction being related, but your other references are great at pinning down what I was actually thinking. Thanks for a well-put answer, with lots of great additional material!
    – atroon
    Nov 14, 2012 at 20:08

The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation for this use of go is this from ‘The Pickwick Papers’ by Charles Dickens, published in 1836:

He was roused by a loud shouting of the post-boy on the leader. ‘Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoe,’ went the first boy. ‘Yo-yo-yo-yoe!’ went the second.

It may be related to the use of go to describe various sounds, as in, for example, ‘the gong has just gone for dinner’, or ‘the bell has just gone for the end of the lesson’.

  • 2
    Wow. That is not what I expected. Interesting. I suppose the first thought I should have when wondering about language usage is "probably Dickens."
    – atroon
    Nov 14, 2012 at 17:46
  • 7
    Beware the Recency Illusion! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recency_illusion Nov 14, 2012 at 17:50
  • @Barrie, should that count for your post, that is the evidence, too?
    – vectory
    Jan 8, 2020 at 23:54

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