A Confession and a Like Observation

The confession. Sometimes I watch The Bachelor. There. I said it. It is escapism at its best except when it isn’t.

Get your sneakers on (runners for some of you.) We are headed down the rabbit hole!

Now for the Observation.

My first disclaimer. This show does not require much from me in the way of concentration, but even so, last night I had to turn it off. The overuse of the word ‘like’ was grating on my nerves.

Panic set in. Do I speak in this way!? I know I overuse some words and phrases but if I start this, well, I give you permission to do what you must.

Tumbling down the rabbit hole I wondered where this trend originated. There were many possible answers.

Blame it on the beatniks. Yes, back in the 50s the use of the word like meant you were pretty cool.

Fast forward to the San Fernando Valley in California. We all remember Valley Girls, don’t we? There was even a song by Frank Zappa and his daughter Moon entitled “Valley Girl”. It had too much rotation and I am going to spare you by not including the video. It did tragically overuse the word like.

Language continues to morph culturally as it always does. Were these two events the catalyst? Perhaps. But why on earth do we overuse this word?

Believe it or not people much smarter than I have debated this. I could try and decipher this article in The Atlantic by Columbia Associate Professor of Linguistics John McWhorter but I could not do the interpretation justice. My fellow word nerds may want to read it, but have some brain food first. There are several other articles much easier to understand if you want to peer into the rabbit hole.

What I learned is the colloquial use of the word ‘like’ is often (there are others) used as:

  • A hedge word – a word that creates ambiguity. I use hedge words too often (I almost added ‘I think’ which would have been a hedge phrase.
  • A quotative word – used to express someone else’s words, ‘She was like did you see that?
  • A filler or pause – The word ‘like’ is used now in place of ‘um’ when the speaker needs to pause. Which is worse? That may depend on your age.

Several articles I read seemed to imply the irritation with the use of the word ‘like’ in conversational English grates more on our nerves if we are older.

This colloquialism has nothing to do with education or intelligence. It is cultural and may be with us forever. I did see there are classes offered in some colleges for first-year students in an effort to break them of the habit which implies it is frowned upon.

My observation and irritation may be yet another demonstration of my aging mindset. How about you? Do you notice this? Do you use the word ‘like’ in this way? If not, does it grate on your nerves, too?

Alice, you may now be excused.