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What Does "as If" Mean?

By S. Gonzales
Updated May 23, 2024
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The phrase "as if" can have different meanings, depending on the speaker and its intended effect. Commonly, a speaker may use "as if" as a substitute for "as though," or he or she can rely on the modern slang version to convey incredulity or disgust. When used in the later manner, delivery can vary between exclamation or interjection. The movie Clueless can be considered its point of origin, in terms of its adoption into modern-day slang.

Typical usage of "as if" is that of a substitute for "as though." The first instance of this was recorded in the 1500s, with variants of it arising in the 1700s. Application of this phrase is considered to be a legitimate part of speech; it has, however, been adopted into modern slang and used in the non-traditional way as an exclamation or interjection.

Foe those using it as slang, the exclamation "As if!" can be used as a response reflecting incredulity. It can be uttered immediately after a person's speaking partner articulates something that is unbelievable or disgusting. The phrase is often considered to be an unqualified meter with which the listener can gauge the speaker's degree of satisfaction. For example, someone who exclaims these two words loudly maybe be forthright in his or her position, while another who mutters them may be amenable to persuasion. As with any other part of speech, the context in which the expression is used can contribute greatly to its interpretation.

"As if!" can be utilized as an interjection, as well. When applied this way, a speaker can interrupt another person's speech to convey that a proposed situation, idea, or belief is unlikely. Use of the phrase as an interjection can result in someone having his or her speech and its future contents summarily dismissed. It is not uncommon for someone to drop his or her side of the conversation after the expression has been uttered. Feelings may even be hurt, as there may be implication that the interrupted person's thoughts are not considered valid.

The modern version of this expression is a type of Valley Girl speech, and can be accompanied by the use of high rising terminal, or a rising intonation, when it is delivered. To the uninitiated listener, it may at first appear that the speaker is asking a question instead of declaring his or her opinion on heard speech. Delivery of the words, however, are typically intended to convey a solid stance.

The adoption of "as if" into modern slang can be attributed to Alicia Silverstone's character Cher in the film Clueless, and its influence on American culture. The film popularized a number of expressions that speakers now consider to be common, including the ubiquitous "Whatever!" With its continuing use amongst teenagers and adults alike, the phrase defies fad status and instead cements its place in American vernacular.

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