Why Do Women Start Sentences With ‘I Feel Like’?

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Photo: Mariana Dynkova/Corbis

First there was Valleyspeak, the eighties California girl’s liberal usage of “like.” Then came uptalk, wherein every statement was posed as a question? Both started among young women, but eventually infiltrated the general population. Now, middle-aged dad writers are freaking out over their daughters’ friends’ annoying creaky voice or vocal fry, but there’s a hot, new young-women’s verbal tic on the horizon: “I feel like.”  

Young women love to start their sentences with it. I first noticed this in college seminars, where it seemed that if you simply prefaced your argument with “I feel like,” none of your classmates could shut you down outright. They might disagree with your point, but they couldn’t take away your conviction that you had felt it. Plus, your emotional hedge indicated that you were open to changing your felt opinion at a future point in the debate.

Now, I use “I feel like” all the time, to seem less aggressive, convey uncertainty, or buy some time before I decide what I’m going to say. I’m not alone. Jezebel’s Katie Baker talked to University of Pennsylvania linguist Mark Liberman, who looked at a large collection of transcribed phone calls and found that 6.7 percent of women had used the phrase, compared to 3.8 percent of men. "This could be because female speakers want to "soften" their assertions somewhat more than male speakers do; or it could be because the overall frequency of the phrase is increasing, and female speakers are leading the change, as they often do," he told her. I look forward to hearing more about my male conversation partners' feelings in the future.