The Like Epidemic – Another Language Peeve

Perhaps if you’re like me, at one point you drove your kids crazy about excessive use of the word “like” as a language filler. It isn’t all that different from the vacuous “oh-my-god”, or the hyperbolic “so much” (as in, thank you so much for reading this!). Since the 1980s, “quotative like” has become firmly associated with the Valley Girl stereotype.

My built-in like-alert meter went off when browsing online for reviews of a new novel, The Orchard, to see if others liked it. Rincy Reads is a popular YouTube book review by an individual who is clearly well-versed but, as can see by the transcription of her review, is challenged to let a sentence go by without multiple drops of the discourse particle “like”.

I am not alone in being obsessed with like, this annoying peeve. Mignon Fogarty is the founder and creator of Grammar Girl, named one of Writer’s Digest’s best websites for writers, and I sense that she shares “the like disdain” based on her engaging podcast. Have a listen at the 3:10 mark, as Mignon fillets the improper uses of like.

There is a popular perception that young women use “like” as a filler much more than young men, much as they excessively use “oh my god” and “so much”. As time goes on, the effeminate use gradually creeps into male speech, particularly among guys who enjoy being one of the girls, though it’s apparently politically incorrect to think this yet alone mention it. So if I’ve offended anyone by bringing this up, I sincerely apologize.

My intent here, truly, is not to be judgmental. It is to share an observation that fascinates me about when and how teens transition out of this excessive use of like. We know that owing to the strong influence of language memetics, teens will copy one another’s language simply by transference during casual conversation. So like, you know even if I didn’t intend to use the word “like” in a way that annoys an adult listener, it just like comes out without even like being aware of it. I mean like, oh my god – can’t we just get over it? You’re being so annoying!

Susan Sankin, a licensed speech-language pathologist, has suggested that the like epidemic has now spread from teens to adults. She writes: “At one time, like seemed to have special proprietary usage by teens.  However, use of like now extends to all ages and genders. Please allow me to demonstrate… “So, I was like at this film screening, like the other night, and like the moderator used the word “like” like so many times that it was like so distracting.”  This is, in fact, what happened.  On a recent evening, while attending a film screening, the very knowledgeable and insightful moderator, was afflicted with a case of the likes … A number of audience members and I were so distracted by his excessive use of like that we were unable to focus on his insights and analysis of the movie.  He came across sounding very immature, uneducated, and unsure of himself.”

The like epidemic has likely spread because people progressively put less thought and effort into conversation, as a fellow like-loathing blogger has noted. In support of this argument, consider that like’s excess is rarely evident in writing. It is a phenomenon of the spoken word. And don’t get me wrong. Like has its place, as grammarians will note. Yet no amount of adult like-alerting about its excessive use seems to make a dent. Trust me. It didn’t work with my children or grandchildren at the time they were in like’s throes, and it won’t work with yours. At some point, whether through interaction in the job market with those who never succumbed to the like epidemic, or through attrition, like-aholism simply fades away of its own accord.

About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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