The Grammarphobia Blog

So she’s like, “I hate LIKE!”

Whether you love “like” or hate it, read Pat’s “like”-minded “On Language” column in the latest New York Times Magazine :

Like

By PATRICIA T. O’CONNER

Like is a friendly word. As a verb, it gives off affectionate vibes. In other parts of speech, it’s a mensch as well, emphasizing what things have in common, not what separates them. But there’s another like in the air, a gossipy usage that has grammar purists — and many parents of teenagers — climbing the walls.

This upstart like is the new say, and users (or abusers, depending on which side you take) find it a handy tool for quoting or paraphrasing the speech of others, often with sarcasm or irony. Linguists call it the “quotative like,” but any 16-year-old can show you how it works.

For example, like can introduce an actual quotation (“She’s like, ‘What unusual shoes you’re wearing!’ ”) or paraphrase one (“She’s like, my shoes are weird!”).

Or it can summarize the inner thoughts of either the quoter or the quotee (“She’s like, yeah, as if I’d be caught dead in them! And I’m like, I care what you think?”).

Like even lets a speaker imitate the behavior of the person being quoted (“She’s like . . . ” and the speaker smirks and rolls her eyes).

This like is not to be confused with the one that sticklers see as a meaningless verbal tic (“The band was, like, outrageous!”). Linguists would argue, however, that even that one has its uses — to emphasize something (“I was, like, exhausted!”) or to hedge a statement (“We had, like, six hours of homework!”).

But back to the like that’s used as a marker to introduce quotes (real or approximate) as well as thoughts, attitudes and even gestures. Parents may gnash their teeth, but language scholars like like.

For the rest of the column, click here.

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