A friend recently commented to me that her dude friends often use phrases like "killing it" or "crushing it" to refer to, well, just about any situation where someone/something is doing well. As this Thought Catalog article argues, bros have meaningfully contributed to our new lexicon: "Next time you complete a task, tell people you 'crushed it.' Soon enough, you’ll start to 'crush' everything."
She's not wrong. From a Forbes article called "A Day in the Life of a CEO Who's Crushing It" to a business advice book titled Crush It!: Why Now is the Time To Cash In Your Passion, "crushing it" has staked out its turf in our contemporary speech.
My friend was particularly perplexed at the application of such violent language to reasonably mundane occurrences: "Joseph Gordon-Levitt is really killing it right now" or,"I totally crushed that midterm."
Did you? Did you stamp the midterm into the ground with the heel of your boot? Or did you answer most of the questions correctly?
Now, I'm not a stickler for hyperbole. In fact, I'm guilty of using phrases like this regularly myself. Why, though? Is this a case of men and women speaking differently, or just an aggressive vernacular that happens to be popular right now?
It's easy to say that men and women simply naturally speak differently and therefore use different phrases, but I think we are actually seeing a case of reverse-causation: Men are expected to use competitive, masculine speech, so that's what we do.
There are a great many articles exploring the differences between male and female linguistics. One recent Salon article claims that men are more likely to use antagonistic speech to demonstrate their stereotypically masculine characteristics — strength, confidence, sexual fitness. One classic manifestation of this "manly" tone is a deep voice, which apparently is more attractive to women because it is one indicator of higher testosterone levels.
The article additionally claims that men are more likely to be direct in their speech, often as a supplement to their competitive speech patterns. For example, it claims men are more likely to take little potshots at one another as a means of competing ("Dude, you're looking a little chubs these days."), whereas women are more likely to express their sentiments indirectly ("Have you seen Stacy? She's really letting herself go...").
These conclusions fit nicely into our preconceived linguistic differences between men and women, but they might not necessarily be true. In her 2007 book, The Myth of Mars and Venus, Deborah Cameron explored some of the most famous linguistics and gender studies and found many were based on dubious data, made to fit existing assumptions.
For example, several studies "found" that women do indeed talk more than men. After a meta-analysis of many such studies, Cameron found that most differences between the way men and women talk were statistically negligible. It turns out that men and women talk about the same amount.
This is where the reverse-causation comes in to play: Men and women don't actually naturally speak differently, but many guys (at least, many millennial guys) seem to amp up their language to match society's expectations for their masculinity. What better way to prove you're succeeding at being a man as well as doing what you do than to imitate bankers at Goldman Sachs?
It's simplest to say that men will use phrases like "crushing it," "killing it," or "we dominated" because they naturally use more aggressive speech, but the evidence doesn't seem to support that. There may be nothing to blame for brospeak but the bros who think we have to stay fluent in it.