(Sigh) I suppose it was inevitable…
From the Fort Wayne Journal: Like, totally
Two decades after the song “Valley Girl” popularized it, a fresh effort is afoot to stamp out this linguistic quirk. The generation that grew up saying “like” is hitting adulthood – and the workforce. As a result, it is now in the lexicon of investment bankers, doctors and even teachers, where it can sound especially jarring. “I’m sure I say, ‘like’ a lot,” says Liza Sutherland, 28, a sixth-grade humanities teacher in New York. “I don’t worry so much about how my students speak.”
Like a verbal virus, this usage is also increasingly spreading to other English-speaking countries. British and Canadian kids now grease their sentences with the word. Sali Tagliamonte, professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto who has researched the speech of the elderly in the United Kingdom, found that they, too, have a surprising fondness for “like.” “If I showed you a written document of the conversation, you would think they were young women in North America, not 78-year-old ladies from Scotland,” she says.
Linguists say “like” has a growing number of meanings. It can act as a “hedge,” to tell the listener that what is being said is an approximation or an exaggeration. (Example: “She has, like, a gazillion shoes.”) It can also be a “focuser,” to declare that the next bit of information is important. (“He is, like, so hot.”) One of its most ubiquitous uses is as a substitute for “said.” (“So my mom was like, ‘Do your homework.’ And then I was like, ‘I did it at school.'”)
Defenders of the practice argue that these usages are just a natural evolution of the English language. Indeed, even some linguists say the word can be downright useful. When dropped into the middle of a sentence, for example, it gives the speaker time to gather his thoughts so he doesn’t say the first (sometimes insipid) thing that comes to mind. Studies also show that people who have learned not to use filler words are interrupted more often, and tend to use simpler sentences.
“It really is a wonderful, useful word,” says Muffy E.A. Siegel, an associate professor of English at Temple University in Philadelphia, who has studied the use of “like.”
Personally, this drives me up the ever-loving wall — and, of course, it’s even worse when I catch myself doing it!
Aah, the times they are a-changin’.
iTunes: “Innocent Children” by Crack Machine from the album Freak Accident (1994, 3:56).