Posted by: Jack Henry | January 21, 2021

Editor’s Corner: It’s Like, Another Editor’s Corner Article

Good morning, everyone!

I read a fascinating article the other day called “How ‘Like’ Can Be Both Annoying and Useful.” I know that this topic is bound to be controversial, but I think you’ll also be surprised and hopefully enlightened. The article looked at how the word “like” is used now and at how it has been used for more than a hundred years.

Parents, teachers, and others have long been complaining that young people seem to throw the word “like” into sentences in unnecessary places, for instance: We all wore like pajamas to school, and our teachers were like really upset about it.

I was surprised to learn that the way people use “like” is not arbitrary—they seem to be unknowingly following certain rules. I’ll let you read the article if you’re interested in learning more about that.

But the really interesting thing to me is that this is not new! And you probably already know that it’s not just young people who use the word. Listen carefully and you’ll hear radio and TV journalists from the Boomer and Gen X generations using the term quite frequently.

The first time I remember being aware of it was in the ‘80s when the “valley girl” craze was underway. Some of you may remember this phrase from Moon Unit Zappa’s song, aptly called “Valley Girl”: “Like, oh my god! Like, totally!”

But it didn’t start there. The article provided these quotes from the ‘50s:

  • “Like how much can you lay on me?” (Lawrence Rivers)
  • “…all hung up on like literary inhibitions and grammatical fears.” (Jack Kerouac “On the Road”)

But it didn’t start there either! People have been using “like” in what we consider unconventional ways for a lot longer than you might think. The article provided historical quotations from both spoken and written English. Check out this quote from 1925: “They were like sitting, waiting to die.”

And from 1887: “I kept all the mortgage books and was secretary for like a hundred and fifteen dollars a month.”

And from 1875: “You’d never believe Pig Route. Like, you’d need to see the road to believe it.”

I’m not saying you have to, like, like it. I’m just saying that your kids didn’t start it. The Millennials didn’t start it either. Heck, the Boomers didn’t even start it. It may grate on your nerves, though, and if it does, you’re in good company. It’s been grating on people’s nerves for a long time.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

Pronouns she/her/hers

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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