Blog Post

Like It or Not

“And then kind of maybe just go on international news like okay then I’ll just do the flavour of the week and be like Ireali Apartheid week.”

This was my friend discussing their blog ideas with me. (Wow! How meta? Blogging about the language used when discussing our blogs.) Those were their exact words. Notice anything? Like, maybe, like, every validation-seeking Facebook-user’s dream – a lot of ‘likes’.

It seems that older generations scorn ‘the kids these days’ for using like – even Kfm spent my entire drive through Cape Town traffic ranting about how irksome they find it. But like, I really like like.

Like’ has been associated with frivolous or ditsy girls, particularly the Valley Girl, which explains why many advise that if you want to be taken seriously, drop the use of like. But I’m a descriptivist and I stand by my ‘excessive’ use of like since it’s doing some incredibly interesting things linguistically. But no, I’m not about to go give a TedTalk and start inserting like every 10 seconds. Like has its place, particularly for establishing interpersonal relationships.

Sociolinguist Alexandra D’Arcy explains three uses of like. Over time it’s been used among certain groups, yet today it’s become an integral part of younger speakers’ grammar. I can almost hear my Victorian grandmother scoffing at the thought of this as grammar. D’Arcy elaborates on different instances of like as a discourse marker, particle, and quotative. In her book, the following example shows three uses:

I love Carrie. Like, Carrie’s like a little like out-of-it but like she’s the funniest, like she’s a space-cadet. Anyways, so she’s like taking shots, she’s like talking away to me, and she’s like, “What’s wrong with you?”

That reads like a complete over-exaggeration, but once you start transcribing colloquial story-telling, like is as common as the pigeons and smokers at UCT.

In “I love Carrie. Like, Carrie’s like a little like out-of-it but like she’s the funniest, like she’s a space-cadet,” the first appearance of like is as a discourse marker. It can be substituted with concrete words, such as ‘for example’. This elaborates.

The following four occurrences are the particle like, which create focus. It acts as emphasis or can suggest that the speaker is sharing their own experiences instead of stating a fact. This is called hedging and is used for politeness. Stylistically, the particle like also builds a relationship between the speaker and listener, suggesting ‘I know that you use this so I will use it too when speaking to you’. Quotative like is used to introduce constructed dialogue, seen in: “and she’s like, “What’s wrong with you?””

The general assumption, as with most ‘negative’ linguistic features, is that it’s gendered. “Women tend to use like more than men.” Frustrating as this is, don’t even get me started on the generalisations about creaky voice. The discourse marker for like appears more commonly used by females, whereas males tend to use the particle more frequently. The discourse marker is a co-operative feature, guiding the listener through the conversation. Women tend to be more conscientious in speech, where men may use vernacular forms more frequently, which accounts for the tendency toward the particle like.

However unwritten the ‘rules’ of using like may be, they’re widely understood and applied. Yet, in certain contexts where articulate, fluent speech is prized, I don’t recommend using like in every sentence. But next time you hear it, don’t brush it off as ‘verbal confetti’; remind yourself that like is playing a vital role, even if it’s still like, annoying.

Using like frequently is seen as ‘verbal confetti’, yet it fills many semantic and pragmatic functions. (Image edited by Joan Redelinghuys, source)

2 thoughts on “Like It or Not

  1. We were told not to use the words “nice” and “alot”by Ms Beckwith in English class 1977. I think because it was over used. So that is the only reason I don’t like the word like used. I’m only conditioned and hope you understand


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