Friday, April 17, 2009

On Like

This post and the next will address challenges to my views that were expressed elsewhere. These topics are familiar to many of you.

So if we, like, all say, like, a lot of "like"s...then it's somehow correct?

Alexandra D'Arcy nicely addresses several faulty notions about the word in Like and language ideology: disentangling fact from fiction. The word is not meaningless. There's no proof that women say it more often than men. It wasn't introduced by Valley Girls. D'Arcy then analyses vernacular like as fitting into four categories:

Quotative Complementizer

She was like, 'Shut up' and I was like, 'Leave me alone!'

Approximative Adverb

It was like a week ago and he hasn't forgotten about it.

Discourse Marker

Like I have no idea what their problem is.

Discourse Particle

That's like really nice of you!

(Vernacular like is distinguished from the uses of like that many call the real or acceptable forms.)*

And while it fits in all sorts of places in the same sentence:

  1. So, like, I told him to shut up immediately.

  2. So, I told him to, like, shut up immediately.

  3. So, I told him to shut up, like, immediately.

  4. does follow some rules. The following sentence doesn't work as easily:

  5. ?So, I told, like, him to shut up immediately.

But even that one is passable if the intention is a contrastive focus. Imagine that the previous sentence was "He told me to shut up!" In sentence 4, with a stress on him, the like is part of the focus. Pretty handy in written language if you ask me.

Yes. Like is grammatical. Using it too often can be a distraction. It's not standard in writing or in formal speech, but it's not an incorrect form. Of more concern then is the overuse. Anything that is overused can easily become tiresome and distracting. A friend of mine was recently interviewed on the radio and he said clearly so many times that i started chuckling at each one. But he wasn't speaking incorrectly. He was just using one perfectly good word too often.

Some would argue that too many likes is evidence of sloppy thinking. There's no evidence of that. Some would argue it's a hedge. A stall. In fact it's often used to propel speech and keep it rhythmic. It has a grammatical function and can signal specific intentions in speech. It can introduce a quote. It can signal an imminent description. It focuses figures.

Like is not thrown around without rules and without regard for meaning. It serves a function in a sentence. It follows rules and accomplishes something. There's nothing parasitic about it.

But like, you know, my point is not that, like, a sentence with like, twenty likes is like, the best way that you can like, say something.

Just that it's a matter of style rather than correctness.

*D'Arcy provides the following unremarkable examples:
  1. Verb: I don't really like her that much.
  2. Noun: He grew up with the likes … of all great fighters.
  3. Adverb: It looks like a snail.
  4. Conjunction: It felt like everything had dropped away.
  5. Suffix: I went, [mumbling] or something like stroke-like.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I'm sorry. You and D'Arcy are clearly wrong. Examples 4 and 5 are both WRONG.

    4 should be "... as if everything" and 5 "resembling a stroke."

    Please stop advocating the incorrect use of English! It's sloppy and lazy and probably leads to drug use.

    Also? Your music? It's just noise.


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