In Defense of the Word "Like"

Oh my, how times change. A decade ago, proponents of the proper use of English were bemoaning the use of the word "like" as an annoying filler in the language of younger people. In fact, that's how I first found Neatorama. Now, those who grew up sprinkling "like" throughout their spoken dialogue are defining its usefulness, namely English professor Paula Marantz Cohen.   

Cohen remembers intentionally slipping “like” into a lecture on Paradise Lost. “The thing you have to realize with Milton is that even if you don’t, like, ‘believe,’ there is a wealth of profound observation about human relationships in the poem,” she told students. Here, like “opens up the idea of belief.” It stretches the statement to include not only pure religious faith, but things like it: the desire to believe, maybe, or the conviction that comes out of social pressure—both feelings relevant to Milton. (What does it mean to believe in a poem, anyway? Maybe it makes more sense to, like, believe in it?)

Some uses of “like” achieve an emotional accuracy that would not be possible if you insisted on speaking literally. “The bakery is, like, two seconds away from my apartment, so I can pick up the cake” captures not just that the bakery is close by, but also the subjective experience of convenience. It telegraphs more (useful) information than “The bakery is approximately a seven-minute walk from my apartment, give or take a few minutes and depending on which lights I catch and whether I’m wearing sneakers or flip-flops—so I can pick up the cake.” Also, by the time you’ve finished uttering that sentence, you could have gone to the bakery and back.

Well, you know, like, whatever. Link

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