Today I want to talk to you about a rather controversial topic: the word like. You’ve probably heard adults and the media complain about how young people use this word. I want to give you a different perspective. Knowledge is power, you guys.

What is like?

Some uses of like are standard (e.g. I like ice cream and puppies) and some are non-standard (e.g. She was like ‘I love ice cream and puppies’). The like we are talking about here is non-standard like, which means it hasn’t generally been accepted as ‘correct’. ‘Correctness’ itself is a pretty weird concept, but we’ll leave that for another time.

People often think that like is a meaningless filler word similar to ‘um’. Um… not true. Like has a whole bunch of meanings. Let’s talk about a few.

Firstly, you can use like to introduce speech, similar to ‘say’. For example “Sally said ‘let’s go to the beach’” and “Sally was like ‘let’s go to the beach’” mean pretty much the same thing. The only difference in meaning is that when you quote with like you tell the person you’re talking to that you could be paraphrasing. Sally might have said “maybe we could go to the beach today” and “Sally was like ‘let’s go to the beach’” would still be truthful, while “Sally said ‘let’s go to the beach’” would be less so, because she didn’t actually SAY that.

Secondly, like can mean approximately. You can say “I ran like 5km today” to mean “I ran about 5km today”. The cool thing about like though is that you could be using it to exaggerate. You’re using like to tell your listener that you didn’t necessarily run that far, but that it was a pretty long way.

Published by Becky

Becky is a champion reader, kitchen experimenter, ballooner, and worrier. She has a masters in sociolinguistics, which means she’s interested in people and how they talk. Becky is currently a teacher and odd-jobber, though in the future she’d like to do more of the teaching and less of the odd-jobbing. Becky lives in Vermont.

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