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“I Can’t Even”is an Internet slang expression used to indicate that the speaker is in a state of speechlessness, either as a result of feeling overjoyed or exasperated, depending on the context in which it is said. Due to its incomplete sentence structure, the adverb “even” in the expression can be interpreted as a substitute verb for “manage.” On Tumblr, the phrase is often used to caption reaction images in which the subject collapses in frustration or bewilderment.
As early as April 2007, the term “even” was used to convey a feeling of speechlessness with the phrase “What is this? I don’t even”. On July 3rd, 2010, Urban Dictionary user tooyoung submitted an entry for “I can’t even,” describing it as an expression used by people on Tumblr. On August 10th, Tumblr user blaketh posted a pie graph titled “What I Can’t,” shown to be comprised entirely of the variable “even” (shown below). Within four years, the post gained over 1,100 notes.
On October 9th, 2013, the Tumblr blog TheBunionPaper published a satirical news article titled “Rich Girl in Dining Hall Can’t Even,” accumulating upwards of 1,900 notes in seven months. On November 20th, the feminist culture blog The Toast published an article about Internet linguistics, which described the meaning of the expression “I have lost all ability to can.” On January 26th, 2014, country music singer Kacey Musgraves repeated the phrase “I can’t even” during her acceptance speech for Best Country Album at the 2014 Grammy Awards (shown below).
On February 3rd the pop culture blog Thought Catalog published an article criticizing the use of the phrase. On March 18th, the GarlicJacksonComedy uploaded a video in which a man contacts an emergency hotline about his girlfriend saying “I can’t” and “I’’m literally dying” (shown below). In two months, the video received more than 630,000 views and 260 comments.
On April 8th, an image macro featuring a photo of several teenage girls titled “Tumblr can’t even right now” was submitted to Imgur (shown below). Within one month, the image garnered upwards of 13,600 points and 570 comments.
On May 10th, YouTuber Sam Tabor uploaded a video titled “I Can’t Even,” in which he is filmed using the swirl effect in Apple’s Photo Booth software while performing his impersonation of teenage girls on Twitter (shown below). On May 12th, Redditor EducatedCloud submitted the video to the /r/videos subreddit, where it gained over 15,900 upvotes and 700 comments in the first 16 hours.