Your feelings

Molly Worthen’s “Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like’” has been making the rounds:

The imperfect data that linguists have collected indicates that “I feel like” became more common toward the end of the last century. In North American English, it seems to have become a synonym for “I think” or “I believe” only in the last decade or so. Languages constantly evolve, and curmudgeons like me are always taking umbrage at some new idiom. But make no mistake: “I feel like” is not a harmless tic. George Orwell put the point simply: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” The phrase says a great deal about our muddled ideas about reason, emotion and argument — a muddle that has political consequences.

Natasha Pangarkar, a senior at Williams College, hears “I feel like” “in the classroom on a daily basis,” she said. “When you use the phrase ‘I feel like,’ it gives you an out. You’re not stating a fact so much as giving an opinion,” she told me. “It’s an effort to make our ideas more palatable to the other person.” …

Yet all this equivocating has started to bother her, and now she avoids using the phrase. Jing Chai, a senior at the University of Chicago, said: “I’ve tried to check myself when I say that. I think it probably demeans the substance of what I’m trying to say.”

Yet here is the paradox: “I feel like” masquerades as a humble conversational offering, an invitation to share your feelings, too — but the phrase is an absolutist trump card. It halts argument in its tracks.

When people cite feelings or personal experience, “you can’t really refute them with logic, because that would imply they didn’t have that experience, or their experience is less valid,” Ms. Chai told me.

It’s a way of deflecting, avoiding full engagement with another person or group,” Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, a historian at Syracuse University, said, “because it puts a shield up immediately. You cannot disagree.”

John Shakely, my grandfather, was a history teacher at Central Bucks West High School in Pennsylvania for most of his career. I remember him talking about the tendency of students to speaking about their feelings on a subject or in a paper rather than about their thoughts. When a student would start with “I feel like…”, he would sometimes respond, “That’s fine, but what do you think?”

“I feel like” is a close cousin to up-talk—you know? That tendency to raise the end of every sentence into a high-pitched question mark? These things are a class of language that asks for affirmation more than ventures a point.

Everyone has feelings. But few, other than our loved ones, really care what they are.

This might sound harsh, but I feel like it’s true?

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