Millenial Speak: Can’t Even

Jenny Force Jenny Force, VP of Marketing

I’m a linguistic nerd. I often wonder why words are used in certain ways throughout the globe. English is a perfect language for a linguistic nerd because it’s used all over the globe and often regions close to one another use English terms differently.

Continuing our series on terms being used on social media (yesterday we looked at ‘literally’), today we’re looking at a phrase that’s commonly used amongst the millennial generation: “can’t even”.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the meaning of the phrase is one “that denotes so many emotional responses that the user can’t even comprehend what has been said or seen.” With that, let’s see how “can’t even” is played upon social media, looking at the last half-year of social data, provided by Sysomos MAP.

OMG. So Many Results, Can We Even? Yes, We Can.

I looked in MAP for the last 6 months and found 14.1 million mentions of the term across Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, forums, and news outlets.

What does the initial data pull tell us? It says that the term “can’t even” is not a trending term – it’s been used steadily for this time frame and beyond. Just to confirm, I pulled 12 months of data and found the same pattern. So, the key is now to see what folks on Twitter “can’t even” about in recent memory.

Cant Even Sentiment

As with “literally”, the story here isn’t how frequently “can’t even” was used, but the context in which the term was said. Looking at Sysomos MAP’s sentiment analysis, one might think the situation is dire. But, let’s remember the term we’re discussing. “Can’t even”, by definition, recounts an outward exhibit of an emotional outburst. One so strong, that the best response is a lack of response. Thereby, I can’t muster a response.

Now, let’s use Sysomos’ text analytics to see more context around the phrase usage. My favorite graph is the Buzz Graph as it shows words used in conjunction with “can’t even”.


When looking at the Buzz Graph, the terms in darker orange and with dark lines show strong correlations between those two words coming out of our “can’t even” results.

Looking at the visualization above, these messages point to usage of the “can’t even” with associated words such as says, saying and say. These terms correlate with a high number of tweets that discuss a negative situation and the subject not knowing how to react or what to say. Also, there are secondary associations on display with feel, feelings and feels, these reflect the emotional nature of many of these tweets.

CantEven-WordCloudSwitching gears over to the Word Cloud, it’s interesting to see “SMH” occur as “SMH” is an abbreviation for “shaking my head” and is used when such a response is warranted.

Trends prompt people to ‘can’t even’

When looking at large timespans, the data doesn’t show specific causes of folks venting frustration. However, if you drill in to specific news events, that’s when the nuggets of gold are found.

For example, when Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination for the upcoming election, “Trump” spiked in correlation with “can’t even”. “Trump” is visible on the word cloud above that looks at the last 6 months.

More recently, #Brexit and UK-related terms have trended in the last two weeks as the world discusses the EU without the United Kingdom as a part of the international body and are tweeting with #Brexit alongside “can’t even” as a trend.

More Ladies Can’t Even

Looking at the gender split with the term, more women use the term than men. As can be seen below, 55% of the usage on Twitter is from women. Compared to “literally”, “can’t even” is more of an even split and used universally by both genders.CantEven-Gender

Do you use the term “can’t even” as a part of your vernacular? If so, in what contexts?

(Header image credit: Flickr user zoidberg72)