Not exactly, like, to my liking

11th January 2008 at 00:00

It couldn't happen here. Or so I thought when, a couple of years ago, I came across Stephen Fry doing a mickey-take of American high school girls and their propensity for inserting the word "like" into every second sentence.

It's, like, driving me crazy. Whether it's big among British high school girls I'm not sure. But it is big and, like, getting bigger on the lips of college students.

I suspect you won't thank me for pointing it out because it's one of those habits you never notice until someone does you the favour of raising the issue, and suddenly you notice it all the time.

One of the interesting things about the use of "like" in this way is that it doesn't actually mean "like", as in "similar to", at all. Take the phrase, overheard recently on the lips of a student: "And I was, like, uurgh!" Does the speaker mean that she wasn't necessarily "uurgh" itself, but related to it in some interesting and metaphysical way? I suspect not. Rather, it means that she actually was "uurgh". (This then raises the question of what the state of "uurgh" actually is. In answer to this, all I can suggest is that first you catch your 17-year-old!)

In fact, "like" used like this doesn't really mean anything at all. It is a cross between a piece of verbal hesitation - a variant on "er" or "um" - and a badge of youthful identity. But then you have to admit that it does throw up some, like, interesting phrases. In addition to "urrgh", it can also be used in a similar way with "yuk" and "what". "I was, like, yuk" clearly means that the user is experiencing some slight repugnance. In order for "what" to make sense, though, you have to add both emphasis and a question mark. Then no listener can be in any doubt about the complete sense of bewilderment associated with, "I was, like, WHAT?"

In similar vein you get: "It was, like . awesome!" - or "slightly out of the ordinary" in normal-speak. And, "He was, like, gross!" tends just to mean that he was slightly worse than others, rather than 144 times worse.

Rather than fight it - you won't win - why not just, like, go with the flow. So now, if you like, like, walking, you can, like, like to hike. Or in art, where you may not know much, at least you, like, know what you, like, like!

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