Can you even? If you're like many incredulous millennials, the answer is no.
Turns out "I can't even," an in-vogue catchphrase favored by teens and young adults to express speechlessness, joy, or exasperation, might have a linguistic lineage that traces back to ... Bob Dylan?
Let's go way back to 1966, as Dylan fleshes out "She's Your Lover Now" with backing band the Hawks. Our cranky music god from Hibbing grows frustrated with the studio sessions, as documented by recent rarities/B-sides box set The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966.
“Aw, it’s ugly,” Dylan complains during one recording of "She's Your Lover Now."
“I can’t. I can’t even ...”
Writes music critic Chris Willmanmade in his review of Cutting Edge for Billboard: “Did Bob Dylan just invent the 21st century catchphrase ‘I can’t even’? I think he did!”
Is it possible Dylan was struggling to remember the song's lyrics, which include, "It's true I just can't recall San Francisco at all / I can't even remember El Paso, honey"? Sure, but it's way more fun to give him crystal-ball credit for coining the derided phase. For more on this defining moment in the history of popular music and language, check out linguist Ben Zimmer's examination of proto-millennial Dylan.
"I can't even" had something of a moment in 2014. Pop-culture blog Thought Catalog put it on blast, prompting the lefty hot-take crew at Slate to jump to its defense. Saturday Night Live got its satirical mitts on "I can't even" last year.
Here's a version of "She's Your Lover Now" found on Cutting Edge. Dylan could even on this one: