Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I was like "Whaaat?"

Scene: On the bus, sitting near the front are two girls who are obviously excited about something. They both have colorful roller-suitcases with them and are chatting loudly.

Girl 2: Like, I KNOW, BLA BLA BLA

Bus driver: Hey girls...
Girl 1: I think he's talking to us.
Bus driver: Girls?
Girl 2: Yes?
Bus driver: Do you have any idea how often you say "like"?
Girl 2: Um...
Girl 1: No...?
Bus driver: You sound really unintelligent.
Girl 1: Okay...thank you. (sarcastic tone)
Bus driver: If I like were like your like professor I'd like tell you to like knock it off. (totally mocking them)
Girl 2: Hm.
Girl 1: Yeah...thanks.
Bus driver: I mean, I can tell you're intelligent girls. You just need to quit saying "like" so much. You sound so stupid.
Girl 1: *speechless*
Girl 2: *speechless*
me: *like "whaaat?"*

In various linguistics courses I've learned to overcome most of my stereotypical perceptions of language, like the "saying like means you're stupid" false dichotomy.

It annoys some people because it's a different sub-dialect than what non-like-sayers speak. It's like hearing an as of yet unacknowledged "ebonics"... you know what I'm sayin'?
And it's easy and fun to look down on others. It's what human beings do best. But here's my linguistics lesson for you for today:

"Like" is a valid hedge-word or discourse particle(or space holder, to take a breath or pause for a second to collect your thoughts, or the way we use "um" in a conversation). The way we usually hear it now is actually an adverb, meaning "nearly",(As in "I like died"). It's also commonly used as a quotative (to introduce a quote or impression), as in "He was like..." or to paraphrase an UNSAID idea or sentiment, (I was like "I can't believe this") including non-verbal motions and sounds. (The dinosaur was like RAAA!)

In other words, it's here to stay and it's a valid and meaningful form of expressing complex ideas, and there's no avoiding it. How else would you introduce an impression into your conversation?

He said "bla bla bla"? No, it's awkward.

If you're a 'like' sayer, don't be ashamed. Own it. I do.


  1. I agree. I get tired of hearing "like" constantly, but I use it myself, especially in conversation. It says that what you are stating is an approximation of how you feel or what someone said. It's unrealistic to present something as an absolutely accurate representation of reality. I guess you could say, "She said something to the effect of..." or "I am more or less peeing my pants with excitement..." But that's a little stuffy-ish.

  2. I want to bury people who overuse "Um" just as deeply. Now if you'll excuse me, my pedestal is getting cold.


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