So, I thought I would, like, write a blog about how people inject the word “like” into their sentences these days, willy nilly.
When I got started in researching the topic, I was under the impression that “like” is being used inappropriately, with no regard for proper grammar or correct usage of the word.
But what I’m learning is that “like” is, like, a very nimble word, and it actually can be used appropriately as many parts of speech, including as:
- A verb. “I like you.” “Do you like me?”
- A noun. “I have many likes and dislikes—more of the former than the latter, thankfully.”
- An adjective. “She is of like mind and often agrees with me.”
- A preposition. Like allows us to compare things and create similes. “It smells like roses out here” or “That cloud looks like a horse’s head.”
- And finally, and believe it or not, like is a legitimate adverb. “We have, like a dozen plants in that garden” or “That event is happening, like next week.”
So then, like, if we can use “like” in all these ways, what’s the problem? It’s that “like” is so overused that it’s eroding our vocabulary and allowing us to dumb-down our conversations. We need to step it up! Variety, people.
Also, here’s the Big Violation, in my opinion:
“Like” is used far too often as an interjection in place of “um” or “ah” or “well,” or “say,” as in, “I’ve been thinking about, like, what we did last Friday night” or “I wanted to, like, talk to you about that.”
It’s these instances, which I believe to be the most prevalent and annoying use of “like”—and yes, I freely admit to guilt here, by the way—that we need to learn to eliminate. We need to learn to speak with more intention, because, the fact is, we shouldn’t be using “ums” and “ahs” and “wells” all the time either.
I asked my friend and colleague Fran Fahey of Fran’s Fine Editing about all this. “So, Fran,” I asked her, “what’s, like, your opinion on all this?”
She told me: “The feeling I have when I hear ‘like’ misused is equivalent to hearing ‘kinda.’ Speakers seem to be unsure of what they really mean or don’t feel they are able to adequately describe it, so they use it as filler for what they are unable to explain. I think of it as a symptom of the art of conversation and critical thinking declining, as we tap abbreviated notes on our iPhones instead of speaking to one another.”
I thought the word “like” was brought into mainstream fashion like 20 years ago by the young teenage girls dubbed Valley Girls in California. But, talk about, like, blaming the wrong generation.
Dictionary.com set me straight. One of its bloggers says that the word “like” has been known to be misused since the late 1880s, with the first “notorious usage of ‘like’” appearing in Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel Kidnapped. He wrote: “What’s like wrong with him?”
That’s, like, wow.
Grammar Girl has a lot to say on the topic as well, and online posters on the Grammar Girl site are nearly unanimous in agreement that the usage is annoying. Some people posted that they change their seats on buses and trains to, like, get away from people saying “like.”
Others say they sometimes pass the time when waiting by counting the number of times those within earshot use the word.
I hear people using “like” all the time, too—when I’m listening for it. I hear professionals of all kinds saying it. Lawyers, engineers, surveyors, professors, fundraisers. It’s like, no big new deal.
My ears gloss over it when I’m not paying attention, and this is why “like” pops out of my mouth quite often as well, when my guard is down.
I will say, though, that I only overuse the word “like” when I’m speaking; never when I’m writing.
That would be, like, ridiculous. Totally embarrassing. Ohmigod.