There may be nothing Twitter is better at than taking a reasonably funny joke and running it into the ground. Recall the whiplash of “Big Dick Energy,” a concept that went from clever to annoying in the space of about 24 hours flat. But not all Twitterisms follow that same trajectory of white-hot viral moment and subsequent spectacular flameout; some of them earn a place in the Twitter vernacular so gradually you barely notice and then become tired just as imperceptibly. All of a sudden, you wake up one August slow-news day and decide that’s it—you never want to see another person do a *checks notes* gag on Twitter ever again.
*Checks notes* had a good run. For the uninitiated, the construction, which sometimes takes the form of [checks notes], is used to indicate that a person has paused what he is saying to make sure he is reading his notes correctly, because he can’t quite believe what’s coming out of his mouth. It’s usually part of some faux-dialogue a tweeter is making up, which is a common practice in tweets. (No one is actually checking any notes; no one even has any notes! The notes only exist for the purpose of the joke.) Some advanced searches reveal that the note-check existed as a tweet format before the dividing line that is the 2016 presidential election, but the last two years are when it really kicked into high gear. It’s sometimes accompanied by a *squints at teleprompter* or similar stage directions for good measure.
If an example will help, see how much-followed journalist Ken Klippenstein recently employed it in a (pretty good) Space Force joke:
Above, Klippenstein is pointing out the irony of the Trump administration’s interest in a pie-in-the-sky nutty project like Space Force, when, hello, what about health care? At the same time, he is drawing attention to politicians’ habit of sticking to party lines that don’t hold up to any sort of scrutiny. It’s also about a total unwillingness to deviate from a previously agreed-upon script. *Checks notes*, asterisks and all, is basically just a way of asking, “Can you believe this shit?” It’s a completely appropriate cliché for our current moment, populated as it is by politicians who are forever trying to steamroll their way through obvious contradictions; there’s no disputing that. It’s just that at this point, it’s incredibly overdone.
Ubiquity is never a good sign for a joke, but beyond that, there’s an annoyingness to *checks notes* as a gag. It probably resides in its connection to #resistance Twitter and politics reporter Twitter, two dark, overlapping vectors of self-righteousness and thirst, made worse by their overwhelming maleness. Women do the checks notes thing too, sure, but not nearly as much as their male counterparts, who studies have shown don’t accord women the same amounts of attention or retweets as they do fellow dudes anyway. So it ends up feeling in practice like a bunch of men are standing around, incredulously checking their notes and sputtering with exasperation. Men, stop that! We all know you don’t take notes in the first place, anyway!
It’s not that *checks notes* is bad exactly. And nor, certainly, are the people who use it. It’s more … we get it! Trump and his lackeys contradict themselves a lot. They have shown us that time and time again. To check notes, at this point, is simply to observe, welp, these people are at it again. It’s turned the corner from being a joke, which is theoretically supposed to be funny, into a sad reminder of how ineffectual, and at times Sisyphean, resistance to the Trump administration often feels. I don’t know what to do about all or even any of our political problems, but at the very least I can recommend one thing we can do, which is get a new joke.
In conclusion, *checks notes*, retire bitch.
Support our journalism
Help us continue covering the news and issues important to you—and get ad-free podcasts and bonus segments, members-only content, and other great benefits.Join Slate Plus