Language Dossier

American Slang: Valspeak

Valspeak is a common name for an American sociolect, originally of Southern Californians, in particular valley girls. This stereotype originated in the 1970s, but was at its peak in the 1980s and lost popularity in the late 1990s and 2000s. Though for a brief period a national fad, many phrases and elements of Valspeak, along with surfer slang and skateboarding slang, are stable elements of the California English dialect lexicon, and in some cases wider American English (such as the widespread use of "like" as conversational filler). Elements of valspeak can now be found virtually everywhere English is spoken, particularly among young native English speakers.
Qualifiers such as “like”, “way”, "as if!", “totally” and “duh” are interjected in the middle of phrases and sentences as emphasizers. Examples:

  • As if – lit. "as if" except it does not use a subject; expresses disbelief.
  • Bitchin' - adj. slang for excellent; first-rate. Though a derivative of "bitch", bitchin' is not considered profane.
  • Whatever! - short for "whatever you say"; sarcastic comeback.
  • Barf me out! - "So disgusting it makes me want to vomit."
  • Fer shur – lit. "For sure"
  • Betch – lit. "Bitch"
  • Totally – "I agree" or "completely."
  • Grody to the max! – "As gross as he/she/it can be."
  • Like, oh my God – can be used many ways; expresses shock (OMG for short).
  • I’m suuure! or I'm so sure – "I'm absolutely positive," but usually used sarcastically.
  • Tre - A synonym for "very" (derived from French "très")
  • Trippendicular! - It can mean either "awesome" or a drug high.
  • Betty - An attractive woman.
  • So - Very; used too often and said with too much emphasis. "He's so not cute!"
  • Baldwin - An attractive man.
  • Seriously - Frequent interjection of approval.
  • Gag me with a spoon! - expression of disgust.
  • Zlint - "excellent", derived from the phonetic spelling of the classifieds abbreviation "Xlnt"

As regards intonation, the excessive use of high rising terminal is common in valspeak. Statements have rising intonation, causing normal declarative language to appear to the listener as interrogative. This is also known as "uptalking".

Valley Girl (or Val) is a term referred to affluent upper-middle class young girls living in the bedroom community neighborhoods of San Fernando Valley. A Valley Girl can be described as materialistic, self-conscious, dodgy, self-centered, hedonistic, physically attractive and sometimes sexually promiscuous.
During the 1980s and the 1990s, the term metamorphosed into a caricature and stereotype of such women: a "ditzy" or "airhead" personality, and unapologetically "spoiled" behaviour that showed more interest in shopping, personal appearance and social status than in intellectual development or personal accomplishment.

The term "Valley Girl" and the Valley manner of speech was given a wider circulation in 1981 with the release of a hit single by Frank Zappa entitled "Valley Girl," on which Moon Zappa, Frank's fourteen-year-old daughter, delivered a monologue of meaningless phrases in "valspeak" behind the music. This song  popularized phrases such as "grody to the max". Some of the terms used by Moon were not actually Valley phrases, but were surfer terms instead (such as "tubular" and "gnarly"). But due to the song's popularity, some of the surfer phrases actually entered the speech of real Valley teens after this point. The Los Angeles surfing subculture, on the other hand, did not generally begin using the Valley terms, and in fact often despises users of the terms.

Valspeak is used heavily in the 1995 film Clueless. Main character, Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) perpetuates Valspeak by using the words "like," "as if," "whatever" and "duh" an exorbitant amount throughout the film. When referring to attractive men and women, Cher uses the terms "Betty" and "Baldwin." Considering the film's release in 1995 and the resurgence of such terms in southern California youth in the years following, it could be credited with bridging the gap between the 80's Valspeak and today's. Valspeak is also heard quite a lot in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, and Wayne's World. The character of Tiffany Blum-Deckler in MTV's Daria also uses Valspeak.
The Valley Girl stereotype has declined in the 2000s for various reasons, one being an evolution into other stereotypes, another being the decline of mall culture and an increase in online social networking for teens, however in some contexts (such as the movie Clueless), the cell phone is considered a Val accessory.

Cool Links: Fashion Trends from Clueless

The Clueless style is both preppy and Barbie-sh. The protagonist of the movie -Cher Horowitz- became a fashion icon and the outfits that the girls of Clueless -Cher, Ti and Dionne- wore were copied all over the world.

Things needed to copy the Clueless style:

  • bright matchy-matchy separates 
  • miniskirts 
  • knee-high socks 
  • plaids 
  • chunky platforms 
  • tank dresses 
  • hairbands

Technicolor Fashion: Clueless
Clueless Movie Fashions