Date: Mon, 1 Jun 1998 22:13:23 -0500
From: Mike Salovesh
Subject: Re: "You know what I mean"

Maria Sansalone wrote:
> Hi:
> I'm an editor at Merriam-Webster, Inc., the reference publishers.
> I recently got a call from a college professor who would like
> information on the phrase, "You know what I mean." He says that he's
> been hearing it quite a bit in the speech of black college students.
> He'd like to know if it's rooted in a recent movie, but from my brief
> look into it, it appears to go back to at least the 20s in familiar
> speech. I appreciate any information. Maria Sansalone

Wow. That calls for an anecdotal reply:

25 years ago, I taught a graduate seminar jointly with a political
scientist. (I do political anthropology.) We devoted the first several
meetings to consideration of the word "WYKWIM", an acronym for "Well,
you know what I mean". We used the word to indicate that WYKWIM assumes
a commonality of background and tradition that is not necessarily
there. The only proper answer to WYKWIM in our situation was "No, I
don't KWYM."

The point was that even though we often used the same words, they came
with entirely different baggage laid on by our different professional
cultures. He and I were well aware of those differences, because we
both were inclined to multidisciplinary approaches -- but his political
science students were amazed at the "ignorance" of my anthropology
students, and vice versa. That's why we taught the seminar in the first
place. By its end, we had a much wiser body of participants. They
proved it by recognizing that many troubles in communication come out of
false WYKWIMming.

-- mike salovesh
anthropology department
northern illinois university PEACE !!!

P.S.: Just before clicking "send", I remembered a song from the early
50s. It was sung to U.S. armed forces people in bars all over Japan,
Korea, and the Far East Command. The words I remember went

"Met a girl in Tokyo, you know who I mean
Said her name was Michiko, you know who I mean . . . "

The base clearly was an earlier, and well-established, "you know what I
mean". Maybe some other Korean War veteran might be able to provide
more of the words.

And now, dammit, that song will be roaring around in my head for hours.
Thanks, I guess. NOT.