English Grammar and Usage, Reader Polls

Grammer Pole of the Weak: And I Was Like, ‘OMG!’

In Grammer Pole of the Weak — yes, “Grammer” is still intentionally misspelled, as are “Pole” and “Weak” — we consider questions of legal writing and English grammar and usage. Last week, for example, we looked at a legal issue, and found out that 81% of our readers voted to support the use of “act of God” over “act of nature” in contracts and pleadings.

This week, at Lat’s suggestion, we’re turning back to grammar, but if you have any suggestions for future Grammer Poles, please feel free to email us.

So, anyway, Lat was like, “Staci, you should consider using this topic for a Grammer Pole,” and I was like “OMG! I should totally use that topic, because that word is like, annoyingly enmeshed in my vocabulary.”

Are you like, addicted to using the word “like”?

This whole conversation (and I really don’t use “like” that much, I swear… fine, that’s a lie) started after one of Lat’s friends self-nominated the following Facebook status update for use in today’s Grammer Pole:

Yes, using “like” as a filler word can definitely be inane and annoying, but should we really be using it in the way that Lat’s friend suggests?

Last year, author and journalist Christopher Hitchens addressed this issue in Vanity Fair, noting that using “like” in such a way was part of the “Californianization of American youth-speak”:

In an analysis drawing upon the wonderfully named Sonoma College linguist Birch Moonwomon’s findings, Penelope Eckert and Norma Mendoza-Denton phrase matters this way: “One of the innovative developments in the white En­glish of Californians is the use of the discourse-marker ‘I’m like’ or ‘she’s like’ to introduce quoted speech, as in ‘I’m like, where have you been?’ This quotative is particularly useful because it does not require the quote to be of actual speech (as ‘she said’ would, for instance). A shrug, a sigh, or any of a number of expressive sounds as well as speech can follow it.”

Okay, great — now we know who to blame. Thanks a lot, California. But is this kind of usage like, proper? Here’s linguist Patricia T. O’Conner’s take in the New York Times:

[T]he new like is hot and it’s useful, but is it legit? Aren’t some rules of grammar or usage being broken here?

Linguists and lexicographers say no. It’s natural, they say, for words to take on new roles. In this case, a “content word” (one that means something) has become a “function word” (one that has a grammatical function but little actual meaning). Academics call the process “grammaticalization.” It’s one of the ways language changes.

My thoughts: even though this function of the word “like” is considered proper, I try to reserve it for online use only. Using it on Facebook and Gchat are fine, but if you use it in real life, you tend to sound like a 16-year-old Valley girl. And to be honest, I probably sounded like that until about age 25. I think I’m over it now, but “like” still sneaks into my every day speech from time to time.

Alright, readers, what do you think? It is okay to use the word “like” to introduce a paraphrase or impression? Let us know in our poll:

Is it okay to use the word "like" to introduce or paraphrase a quotation?

  • And I said, "Absolutely not. It sounds totally ridiculous." (74%, 533 Votes)
  • And I was like, "Absolutely. It sounds totally respectable." (26%, 190 Votes)

Total Voters: 723

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The Other L-Word [Vanity Fair]
Language: Learning to like like [New York Times]

Earlier: Prior Grammer Poles of the Weak

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