Admit it, whether you regard yourself as a scholar of linguistics or a self proclaimed language snob – you’ve, at least once, crossed over to the dark side and used the word “like” in a sentence where it, like, doesn’t belong. Narrowly escaping the grammar police, you catch yourself, cringe and promise never again! This usage of “like” is known as a slang interjection. This form as well as the adverbial use of “like” dates back a lot further than you might think.
Many people believe Moon Unit Zappa and her 1982 single Valley Girl are responsible for popularizing this usage of “like” precisely at the moment Ms. Zappa sang, “It’s like, barf me out.” The sociolect that the song celebrates, Valspeak, originates in Southern California. In reality, the slang use of the word “like” has been a part of popular culture dating as far back as 1928 and a cartoon in the “New Yorker” that depicts two women discussing a man’s workspace with a text that reads, “What’s he got – an awfice?” “No, he’s got like a loft.” The word pops up again in 1962’s A Clockwork Orange as the narrator proclaims, “I, like, didn’t say anything.”
The notorious usage of “like” appeared as linguistic filler as early as the 19th century with the following passage in Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel Kidnapped: “’What’s like wrong with him?’ said she at last.”
“Like” is an extensible word that can be used as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, particle, conjunction, and interjection. What uses of “like” do you think are acceptable and which should be discouraged? Let us know your thoughts.