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My native friend uses the word "whatever" (slang) quite often in the sense of "anyway" I think. I would like to use it too but I am worried about sounding like "I don't care what you say". So could you tell me where and how to use it "properly" to sound cool?

whatever...

  • Um, I really went what?! when seeing this. Saying whatever coolically does mean I don't care what you say! Saying this stuff is cool among friends. Also, saying almost anything is cool among friends, as long as you don't blunder. :) – M.A.R. Apr 7 '15 at 17:04
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    My old French teacher always advised us against using slang, especially pejorative, unless we knew exactly what we were doing. At best, using the word incorrectly would elicit a raised eyebrow; at worst, your conversational partner could take great offense. Considering you still need to ask how to use the word correctly, I would recommend that you observe more native speakers using slang before trying to use slang yourself. – OperaticSkeleton Apr 7 '15 at 23:27
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Actually I would argue that 'whatever' is synonymous with "I don't care". However, there are certain circumstances when "I don't care" is used.

Here are some that I can think of:

  1. Getting into an argument about something, and brushing the accident off with 'whatever'. Note: This may not be the best way to use 'whatever' to look cool, because it is somewhat rude and dismissive as @ColleenV mentioned (dismissive: feeling or showing that something is unworthy of consideration).

    Person 1: Since you were late to pick me up, I missed my appointment!

    Person 2: Sorry, but there was a lot of traffic.

    Person 1: Whatever

    (meaning I don't care to argue about this anymore)

  2. Losing your train of thought — where you are talking about something but completely forget what point you are trying to make.

    Person 1: I know there is something that I need to buy at the grocery store, but I can't remember, and I forgot to write it on my grocery list. Ah, whatever!

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    I think you've provided some good examples, but you might want to mention that brushing off an apology with "whatever..." is very dismissive and some folks would see it as pretty negative depending on the tone of voice you used. I know you said it was an argument, but I don't think it's clear that by ending it with "whatever..." you're probably walking away still annoyed. – ColleenV Apr 7 '15 at 17:54
  • @ColleenV -- You're absolutely correct, and I felt I emphasized some precaution to the OP, but I will add more explicitly the implications of this usage. – Chris Ruth Apr 7 '15 at 22:31
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So … "whatever" first does not mean: "I don't care", although based on some people's reactions, such as a past boss of mine (who happened to be an American-born non-European heritage individual, fully Americanized and educated, but possibly 1st generation, and not yet spiritually liberated — maybe next gen :)), it is clear some people take it to mean that or something similar. One must be judicious in its use for this very reason.

OK, so the real usage is much more benign, and generally friendly way of saying: "I get what you are saying, but your current train of thought appears to be leading in a rather redundant and/or non-productive direction." This is the usage when it is intended to cut off the monologue another is addressing to you, in a friendly manner. It is not intended to end the discussion, but to say let's move on to more productive information.

It is also used to personally cut off your own speech, such as when giving a list of examples, for example: "You could do A, B, C, whatever". i.e. in this sense it is synonymous with "etc".

However, if you want to fast track your understanding of this and other American English modern expressions, the most reliable source is the movie "Clueless", starring Alicia Silverstone, as a California teenager attending an upper middle-class high school. She speaks an advanced form of what used to be called "Valley Girl" speech, which turned out to be so cool and appealing that virtually all of America slowly adopted it one little bit at a time, not too long ago.

  • I would caution the OP that what is "cool slang" this year among one group may not be cool next year or among another group. If the group uses "whatever", it's good to know how to use it (as you well explained). If the group doesn't use "whatever", learn whatever word they are using to indicate that attitude (there will always be several, as affecting an air of indifference is an essential part of being cool, in any decade). Check out, e.g. James Dean in the movie Rebel without a Cause – Brian Hitchcock Apr 8 '15 at 6:17
  • @Brian: I quite like Rebel without a Cause, but I can't really see that watching 60-year-old movies is a very good way of learning current slang (and it would be decidedly uncool to unwittingly come out with some ephemeral term that might have been outdated long before you were born! :) – FumbleFingers Apr 9 '15 at 15:41
  • Good point. Let me clarify that I meant to mention James Dean only in regard to the attitude, not the slang, which is indeed far outdated. – Brian Hitchcock Apr 10 '15 at 8:11

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