They Said to Me; "Mike, they said"...
March 20, 2017 12:46 PM   Subscribe

Please help me identify what manner of speech this is that my co-worker uses.

I have a co-worked named "Mike" who, when he relays a conversation that he had with another person or persons, will always phrase it so that he is telling us what they said to him verbatim.

For example: instead of just saying "They told me to fill out the paperwork and send it in", he will say: "They said to me; Mike they said, you need to fill out the paperwork and send it in."."

What manner of speech is this? Is it a variation of talking in the third person? I'm not sure how to describe this when doing a Google search, so my results are not very fruitful.

Any English majors out there who can tell me what this is? Thank you!
posted by Hanuman1960 to Writing & Language (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
He is quoting rather than paraphrasing.
posted by w0mbat at 1:01 PM on March 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

They said to me, "Mike," they said, "you need to fill out the paperwork."
posted by corb at 1:05 PM on March 20, 2017 [16 favorites]

I associate it with slightly corny old-timey schtick.

vis. And so he says to me, he says, “You want to be a baaaaad guy?!” and I say, “Yeah, baby! I want to be bad!”, from The Tick. Gives me a bit of an NYC vibe, but I'm also not terribly familiar with NYC-native English.

But it's not limited to that, see also e.g. here from Plato: For often he says to me in an indignant tone: “What a strange thing it is, Eryximachus, ... ” (Eryximachus is the speaker here).

It is correct that it is quoting rather than paraphrasing, but this "And he says to me [name], he says" and close variants is more specific than that and it is definitely A Thing™
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:08 PM on March 20, 2017 [10 favorites]

Half my midwestern relatives (rural, 50+, German, Catholic) speak this way. It's a regional variation.
posted by fritillary at 1:23 PM on March 20, 2017 [10 favorites]

To me, this is a common way to relate a conversation among my parents' generation (baby boomers) in out state Minnesota. Does he have any kind of Midwestern accent?
posted by soelo at 1:23 PM on March 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

My mother's family (deep south for generations) does this, except with "says" instead of "said." Regional variation, first person.
posted by frobozz at 1:28 PM on March 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

This can also be called direct speech, but I still think this specific form you're talking about is basically a widely shared idiolect for many people. I don't think it is tied to any one region in the USA, given my NYC guess together with midwest and south mentioned by others (I grew up in the midwest and only heard it rarely, from old folks). I do agree it seems more common in the USA among older folk, but I do hear it from people under 30 too. Here is a whole research monograph about this kind of thing, but unfortunately it's about Greek youth, and nothing in the Anglosphere, so perhaps of limited relevance.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:29 PM on March 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Is it Runyonesque?
posted by johngoren at 1:32 PM on March 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

"So he says to me, he says, '[Name]...'" is a really common turn of phrase. I tend to associate it with my blue-collar WWII-generation grandfather and his friends (Midwestern US).
posted by lazuli at 1:34 PM on March 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

Damon Runyon definitely used it a lot, see here for NYT coverage. Lots of stories and characters in NYC, Runyon lived there a long time and died there. Not clear if he can claim ownership/inventor credit but definitely he was an influential figure.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:37 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I googled the formation "says to the guy I says" as I thought it would be easier to find, and probably still related. The formation seems to be associated, at least to some, with New Jersey and with Vaudevillian comedy. Norm MacDonald used it in jokes too.
posted by honey wheat at 1:49 PM on March 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

It's like the, "So I said to myself, 'Self,' I says....'" trope.

I've heard it most of my life, usually when someone is trying to be pithy or amusing. In my New England neck of the woods, it's more used for story telling entertainment purposes than anything else.
posted by zizzle at 1:50 PM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

See also "So then I says to Mabel, I says..."

Google turns up a message board conversation and blog post overthinking the line with little outcome. One thing we know for certain is it's not from The Great Gatsby.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:51 PM on March 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Seems like a form of storytelling as communication.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:51 PM on March 20, 2017

I always hear that turn of phase in Art Carney's voice so I did quick search and came up with this:

I've received a number of interesting responses to my recent post on the expression, (So) I say(s) to myself, "Self...", which has still only been documented since the 1980s, surprisingly enough. [*] Many readers are convinced that they've heard it used in old movies or comedy routines. It does have the feel of a well-worn vaudeville line, something that might have been introduced to film or radio audiences by a former vaudevillian like Jimmy Durante, William Demarest, or Red Skelton. But if an old-time comic actually used the line, I've found no record of it in the various online databases. (One might expect it to turn up on a database like ProQuest Historical Newspapers, which covers the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and several other major papers. Surely some entertainment columnist would have alluded to it somewhere along the line.)
which led to this:

Now to the snowclone research I mentioned. I was curious about a snowclonish turn of phrase that is often used to indicate a jokey interior monologue (or dialogue, actually): (So) I says to myself, "Self (I says)..." In September, I mentioned this expression on the American Dialect Society mailing list, asking if anyone knew of its origin. Surprisingly, despite the fact that it sounds like it comes from some old vaudeville routine, no one was able to find an example before the 1980s. John Baker tracked down this example from the Boston Globe of May 31, 1981, quoting a New Hampshire gardener:

It's like the Sinbad Shazam movie.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:17 PM on March 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

Not just a North American thing: a whole bunch of Glasgow patter is storytelling as communication. Slightly contrived example is Ian Hamilton Finlay's poem: “see me / wan time / ah wis a fox / an wis ah sleekit! ah / gaed slinkin / heh / an snappin / yeh / the blokes / aa sayed ah wis a GREAT fox / aw nae kiddin / ah wis pretty good / had a whole damn wood / in them days / hen
posted by scruss at 2:24 PM on March 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

I feel like this is common in David Mamet films. He is from Chicago.
posted by AFABulous at 2:55 PM on March 20, 2017

I definitely associate this with the speech of older folks, particularly from small towns or farms. I grew up in Iowa.
posted by epj at 3:24 PM on March 20, 2017

It's not really comedy, I associate this with South Philly mooks, baby boomer guys my age but it's in all age groups and in my experience it's a blue collar thing.
posted by fixedgear at 3:34 PM on March 20, 2017

Agree with older folks, blue collar, small town vibe to this way of speaking. And an implication that the speaker tends to be verbose.

I guess it's not necessarily true because I don't see it in the other links and answers, but I associate the appropriate way to transcribe this as:

"They sez to me, Mike, they sez....." or "I sez to myself, self, I sez...."
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:39 PM on March 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Florence King has her characters from the deep South (not the upper South) talking this way.
posted by 8603 at 6:13 PM on March 20, 2017

Here's an example from the 1830s
posted by mabelstreet at 6:18 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Half my midwestern relatives (rural, 50+, German, Catholic) speak this way. It's a regional variation."

Yeah, absolutely characteristic of blue-collar-born Chicagoans born before WWII. Most commonly something like, "And I says to him, I says, 'Joe, you gotta take the Skyway even if it costs two bucks.' And he says to me, he says, 'I ain't payin' two bucks to drive on a public highway when the Dan Ryan's free!'"

"And I says to him I says" pulls up lots and lots of google results.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:02 PM on March 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

This definitely describes my mother (boomer generation, lives in a suburban area).

I always attributed this to some generational need to unnecessarily relay an exact sequence of events of a completely banal occurrence. She also frequently tells me what I should say to other people, but perhaps that's an unrelated issue.
posted by bkpiano at 7:34 PM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

My highly educated lifelong-native-of-Providence grandmother did this, usually with the repeated insertion of the person's name for emphasis, as in: "So I said to Marian, 'Marian,' I said, 'Marian, what is all this about?'"

(It is a good thing I do not know anyone named Marian. I would never get past the meta.)
posted by picopebbles at 7:45 PM on March 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also note that "I says to him I says" actually is conveying two different pieces of information (which is more clear when you hear it in the wild with the speaker's inflection) -- "I says to him" is telling you who was speaking to whom; "I says" then introduces the quoted section. The first "I says to him" (or, for you, "they said to me") is emphasizing the interpersonal interaction between two people; the second "I says" ("Mike, they said,") introduces the quoted element. It's more obvious if someone is telling a story like:

"So I says to him, I says, 'Joe, you've gotta tell Mary you lost the money on the horses.' So Joe goes home and he says to Mary, he says, 'Mary, I gambled all the egg money on the horses.' And she says to him -- and you know Mary's got that strong left hook from her years at the bar -- she says, 'Joe, don't you dare come in this house until you get that money back.' So Joe's awfully scared she's gonna cold-clock him if he can't scare up that $15, so he comes and finds me in the stockyards, and he says to me, he says, 'Bob, I need a way to make a little cash under the table.'"

Each time the speaker says "X says to Y, X says," the phrase first emphasizes who is speaking to whom, and THEN introduces the quote. (If someone wrote, "Mary, speaking to Molly, said, 'Blah blah blah.'" we wouldn't consider it poor grammar, although it's repetitive in a very similar way.)

In my experience (with older Chicagoans), the more characters are in the story, the more likely they are to "I says to him I says" it. When my grandfather would be talking about his friend Tony, he'd just say something like, "I told Tony I'd drop by after work." But if he was talking about meeting Tony and two other guys for bowling, it's "I says to Tony, I says ... and Tony says to Bob, Tony says ..." and I think it's just a form of storytelling that emphasizes characters involved in the verbal interaction before giving the report of their speech.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:46 PM on March 20, 2017 [15 favorites]

This is also a common turn of phrase in French, though French grammar allows for a touch more specificity and thus comes out as: "moi, je lui ai dit que..." It's a low-key way to emphasize specificity and conversational importance ("I'm telling you a story about a conversation between real people, not a story-story" sort of thing).

My Irish Midwest relatives all talked like this too, but not my north-Norwegian ones or the Finns my Irish great-aunts married. My educated guess – as the granddaughter of one of those Norwegians and having lived in Finland – is that's because those local cultures are just plain old more straightforward. (Northern Norway is different from other parts.) Conversational importance is baked in the moment someone starts talking. Otherwise they wouldn't be talking, as my grandfather would say.
posted by fraula at 2:27 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

My father, a small-town boy who grew up in 1930/40s hayseed East Hartford, CT, and achieved a decent education, has this speech pattern too. I think it's more generational than regional, probably imitating speech patterns heard in movies, which were in turn echoes of colloquial Vaudeville patter.
posted by Queen of Spreadable Fats at 6:00 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Generational, not regional. As with many turns of phrase, origins in minstrelsy/vaudeville guaranteed a spread across the country. And a more common usage when oral storytelling was a more common vector of communication than tv.
posted by Miko at 6:06 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you one and all. For what it's worth, he is actually Italian, on the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation, and has lived in Western Massachusetts all of his life.

He's college educated, but from a large Italian family. Both parents are from Italy and definitely "blue collar", and he is very down to earth, so he probably picked up this manner of speech from his parents.
posted by Hanuman1960 at 6:07 AM on March 21, 2017

"a form of storytelling that emphasizes characters involved in the verbal interaction before giving the report of their speech"

It seems to be effective. "Bob," I says to him, "Bob, don't leave me hanging here: What happened with Joe and Mary?"
posted by Weftage at 7:03 AM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

So I says to Joe, I says, "You know and I know there's only one way to make that kinda money under the table. You're gonna have to talk to the North Side Boys." And Joe says to me, Joe says, "Bob, Mary's gonna kill me if she finds out I've been hanging around them types." And I says to him, I says, "I don't see as you've got any other choice." Joe allowed as that was true, so I sent him to Sean O'Grady up on North Clark, and whaddya know, Sean had a job for him, dangerous one, paid real good. Sean says to Joe, he says, "We gotta shipment coming in from Canada way tonight, need another man in the offload."

Now, offloading's dangerous work, especially in the winter. You head out on the Lake in a little flat-bottomed rowboat, water all cold and choppy, and meet one of them converted fishers coming from Toronto. You gotta do it in the dark so the cops and the Coast Guard don't cotton to it, and then transfer the barrels over the water. The barrels are worth more than the men, so more than a few drowned if they fell in. Even if they pull you out, the cold can finish ya before they get back to shore. But it was real top-shelf stuff, Canadian whiskey, and Sean says to Joe, he says, "You look strong enough to hoist a barrel. I'll give you $20 fair and square, and a bottle of spirits to boot, to take the chill off after the trip." Now being mixed up with the North Side Gang is bad, and falling in Lake Michigan in the winter is worse, but Joe's more scared of Mary than either of those things, so he shakes on it and goes out on the Lake after that whiskey. The other men are real closed-mouthed, but Joe gets the idea they're landing in Lincoln Park to hand the booze over to a speakeasy owner with a place on Waveland.

Well the offload goes as well as can be expected, the Canadians were hitting on all eight, so they were heading back to Lincoln Park quick as a wink, and Joe's starting to think he's gonna make it out of this after all, with a spare $5 for the ponies. He's telling me later and Joe says to me, he says, "It was cold as a witch's tit and I could hear the wolves as we fetched up in the park, and the North Side boys start talking about the chippy we're meeting -- a real bearcat, they says. It was a lady saloon owner, up on Waveland." And he says to me, he says, "You know I don't range that far north for my booze, so I don't know who they mean, but she sounds real important. And then the wagon rolls up. And Bob," he says to me, he says, "Bob, knock me over with a feather, but it was Mary driving the cart with two boys with bean shooters on guard. Moonshine Mary, they called her. Well I kept my head and closed my yap tight and everything was Jake; I got my double sawbuck and my whiskey and I hightailed it home."

And Joe says to me, he says, "Soon's Mary walked in she put her hand out for the whole twenty." And Mary says to Joe, she says, "Joe, my boy, I won't have you mixed up with those North Side boys, and if I catch you at the ponies again, I'll have you fitted for a Chicago overcoat. You keep your work on the square, that keeps me out of the clink, savvy?" And Joe, well, Joe's bowled over, and first thing next morning he comes to see me at the burlesque and he spills the whole tale, how Mary's been moonshining for years, ever since Prohibition came in and the bar closed, and has a whole pile put away, while Joe's been breaking his back heaving railroad freight -- I can tell you, Joe didn't go to work that day. He's thought it through, see, and Mary needs him on the up-and-up, so she can't risk a divorce, so Joe skives off work and hotfoots it to the burlesque down on South State.

And I says to him, I says, "But didn't Mary tell you to stay out of these shady joints?"

And Joe says to me, he says, "Bob, she told me to stay away from the ponies. She didn't say nothing about these fillies."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:40 PM on March 21, 2017 [10 favorites]

I associate that form of speech (always with “says,” never “said,” regardless of subject or tense) with my mom’s side of the family—blue-collar West Pennsylvanians of Slovak (and sometimes Polish) descent. I guess I always figured it was a first- and second-generation Slavic immigrant thing, but given the attributions I’ve seen in this AskMe, it does seem to map more strongly to working class Silent Generation folks. (My great-grandmother, born in 1900, talked like this too, but she could have picked it up from her kids.)
posted by nicepersonality at 8:17 PM on March 21, 2017

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