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May 31, 2022

"I Love An Anchovy" - The Millenial Generic

If you hear someone say "I love an anchovy," no context, do you assume they have have one particular anchovy that they love, or that they just love anchovies in general? And does this phrase sound normal to you, or unbearably young?

I'm not sure if it's the Baader-Meinhof effect, but lately the "I love a _" construction has been popping up everywhere in my life. I've even found it unbidden in my own speech, slipping from my lips to say "I love a weather report." My intuition tells me it's trendy, but it's always worth double-checking.

First, the construction itself - almost always in first person, more commonly the singular. A common example, "I love a red lip", means "I love red lips [for makeup]" or "I love a red lip [when I'm wearing makeup]." The difference between "I love red lips" and "I love a red lip" is subtle, but the latter one sounds more situational, like you like to use red lipstick often, while the former sounds like you're just a fan of red lips. I don't know if everyone feels this difference, but "I love red lips" feels like a stronger statement than "I love a red lip."

More broadly, the "I love a _" looks like a form of generic. Specifically, it's a construction about a kind of "general property" ("The Generic Book", Carlson, 1995). Compare:

  • John smokes a cigar after dinner.

This isn't about any one cigar, but about John's habit of smoking cigars. 'a cigar' is a stand-in for all the cigars John does smoke after dinner. It makes no further claims about cigars. It's common for generics in English to be singular nouns ("a cigar") or plural nouns ("John smokes cigars after dinner"). We can see a parallel in "I love a red lip" and "I love red lips."

Second, who's saying it? Anecdotally, mostly women, millenial-age or younger, and especially in the fashion and cooking worlds. I don't hear a lot of men using it, and if a man said something like "I love a mechanical keyboard," it would sound slightly feminine to me.

How old is it? It seems to date to around the mid-2000s. I've found it in 2007, in the book 'People':

"I love a red lip," says Heroes star Ali Larter, who often puckers up in the shade.

In 2009, a man who is definitely not a millenial assures a reader that anchovies are a great way to punch up a meal:

I love an anchovy. They lend a fabulous, penetrating richness to all sorts of dishes, from salads and pizzas to stews and roasts.

Twitter also has a fair amount of results for "I love a red lip" in 2009 and 2010, suggesting the construction was already common at the time. There are far more results now, but it's hard to know whether this is because the construction is more popular or more people are using Twitter: Twitter had 30 million monthly active users in the first quarter of 2010, 68 million in the first quarter of 2011, and 330 million by the first quarter of 2019 (via Statista).

The celebrity cook Alison Roman is a fan of this construction, using it frequently. She was born in 1985, making her the prototypical millenial woman who would use this construction.

You can't start with like, a dried soaked chickpea or bean. I love a canned chickpea, and I'm not afraid to say it.

Now why would a phrase like this appear if we already have a perfectly good generic in 'I love red lips' or 'I love anchovies'? I mentioned above that 'I love an anchovy' seems less intense and absolute than 'I love anchovies', so this gradation may have been a motivation for this innovation. There are other constructions that seem semantically similar to me, such as:

  • I love a (good) anchovy.
  • I love an anchovy (situation).

And as mentioned above, plural nouns and indefinite singular nouns are also used to represent a general property:

  • John smokes a cigar after dinner.
  • John smokes cigars after dinner.

It's not a big step to complete the parallel:

  • I love red lips.
  • I love a red lip.

There could also be an analogy with the following phrase, which is popular among millenial women and gay men.

  • We stan a [adj] queen.

So far, the construction seems pretty limited. As mentioned above, I almost always find it in the present tense first person. You could imagine forms like:

  • She loves a bold lip.
  • You know [that] he loves an anchovy.
  • I'm loving a kitten heel.

But it starts getting weird the more you deviate from it. These made-up sentences sound weird:

  • He loved an anchovy. (speaking of someone who's dead?)
  • Once I show you the proper technique, you will love a red lip.
  • I have loved an anchovy, but I'm over it/them now.

What's your experience with the millenial generic? Do you use this construction?

Works Cited


  1. See, I knew this sounded familiar! Seemingly attested in a 1976 Doctor Who episode (transcript at The meaning checks out. Probably somewhere else around then, too, but I wouldn't know where to look

    1. Thank you for this early citation!

      DOCTOR: And Giuliano, save me a costume. I love a knees-up.

      I'm not familiar with the term "knees-up" - seems to mean a big party? Perhaps one could find other examples in archives looking for "I love a party/shindig/(other get togethers)."