The LIKE Epidemic

So if you can like help me figure out about when and where this linguistic virus like grew, I’d really appreciate it. People use this curious filler like all the time, even on news radio. I worry hearing moms talk like this; they depend on the word like every five syllables like oh my god. Their children start like picking up the like off the floor and mopping like every breath with it and the saddest part is like I’m not exaggerating.

So like is this originally like an American phenomenon? I really don’t mean to like offend anyone but like didn’t this start as a caricature of the blonde American Valley Girl*? I know East Coasters are also fond of their like. Did it sweep in from the West, fly over and spare the Midwest? Hit mostly like the major cities? Can older readers tell us if you like remember Americans talking this way like in the 50s or 60s? Hey readers like in the other parts of the world, have people like forgotten how to talk over there too? If the like virus does run amok there, is it like an airborne disease from the States or has it like grown from native soil?

As a linguist, I’ve been trying like hard to uncover the subconscious role of this filler. There must be like a rhyme and reason to the madness. Seems it like began with the strange substitute for the verb to say.

So he said, “I’m freezing!”  —-> So he’s like, “I’m freezing!”

How in the world did this like happen? Words take root, like have a purpose. This one’s got me. The filler doesn’t like seem to discriminate the part of speech that it wants to like introduce. We’ve like allowed a linguistic aberration, an unnecessity, to make its home in our speech like a five-headed monster that we’ve like taken in for a pet. Language takes the path of least resistance, will like look to save spit. It’s not supposed to grow weeds. Why is it that people like depend on this word? What is it they feel that they can’t quite like express without it? Why are we like wasting b r ea th?

This is like one of the serious posts on class and language like coming out of the Race Around the World.

*Wikipedia: Valley girl is a stereotype depicting a socio-economic class of white women characterized by the colloquial California English dialect Valleyspeak and vapid materialism. The term originally referred to an ever-increasing swell of semi-affluent and affluent middle-class and upper-middle class girls living in the early 1980s Los Angeles bedroom communities of the San Fernando Valley.

237 thoughts on “The LIKE Epidemic

  1. Pressing ‘Like’ on this post was, like, slightly amusing to me. Like, you know, like, funny?!
    Yes, it’s very American in origin, and it has taken hold, massively. In Australia, it has now been fully absorbed into the common language. And not exclusively restricted to Gen-Y types either. I find it very annoying, but I also, like, find myself using it. Rarely, but it happens…

  2. I want to give this post 1000000 Likes. I hate the new trend of communication. I really don’t understand why it’s impossible to say an entire sentence without using “like” 3 times. Using “like” is an epidemic that is spreading quicker than any disease. When I hear someone talk to me that way, they lose all credibility with me. I don’t even want to continue talking to them anymore.

      • I agree, but unfortunately it’s not just kids who use this language. I have come across adults, moms as you said, even in professional fields such as attorneys and doctors, who are just as bad with using “like” after every single word as the kids are.

    • Wohoah! Mind sharing how long you in CA and about what age/stage in life you went out there? So has the mode of speaking stuck with you or did you manage to cut it overseas? Can you tell my readers where you are and if people do this there?

      • We immigrated from the Philippines when I was 6.

        You mean, the LIKE thing ? Maybe I still use it, out of habit, I guess, but I’m, aware I rarely use that word these days. I find it too juvenile. Aaarg… I’m getting old, ha ha.

        I’m from California, and yes, the young folks still talk that way… lots of “like, you know”.

      • Just after your first comment came in, I replied to Joshua’s:

        “lack of reflection and the value of silence and pause.”

        I said, “You know that hints at layers? There’s a whole post in there. How we can’t handle silence in the Information Age.”

        By the way, I just wanted to make sure you got my email a month or two ago. In case it never reached you.

  3. I wonder about the use of the term in relation to simile/metaphor–in using the term in all sorts of ways it can be used, even when replacing it for “said,” I wonder if there is something “linguistically unconscious” operating–that embedded in the use of “like” is a means of expressing the inability to capture one’s experience in language, so the best one can do is say what it is “like” even when speaking about “facts.”

    • Actually, your question crossed my mind. That is why I shared that I’d looked at the usage from different angles. You are onto something and my concern is how using the “like” in that capacity will increasingly give the speakers (esp kids) license for cloudy thinking. (Because you no longer have to be crisp and nail your intent or crystallize your thoughts to begin with. Just use the comparative “like”.)

      • I think you are on to something there for sure; perhaps part of it is “lazy” thinking; and speaks too I think to a lack of reflection and the value of silence and pause. One thing though–you say “will increasingly give…” In my experience it is already deeply embedded in speaking–I remember in the 80s (I’m from the SF Bay Area), using “like” had already entered into language and as a teacher of college students, I still hear it all the time.

      • I found the note on the use as filler for silence online, too. I LiKe how you put it:

        “lack of reflection and the value of silence and pause.”

        You know that hints at layers? There’s a whole post in there. How we can’t handle silence in the Information Age.

        One thing though–you say “will increasingly give…”

        Oh, I’m loving the data. SF, 80s, huh? Hmf. Yes, I meant increasingly. Epidemic will only deepen and widen in scope.

    • Your idea is one that I also thought plausible when I began to hear “like”inserted inappropriately often into the speech of HS students in Oregon in the 90’s. It seemed to occur more often in the speech of individuals who were less confident about their opinions, or less eloquent. This is different than the first uses of “like” that I remember from the 50’s. Then, “like” was used by beatnik hipsters, “LIke, that’s crazy, man”. It was “cool” to talk like that if you wanted to be seen as a rebel.
      Maybe in Australia the insertion of like is seen to be more favorable because it was used in movies or on TV. I think that the current plague of like insertions probably came from some character in movies or TV, maybe the Valley Girls, maybe something that imitated them and became popular.
      As some have mentioned, “you know” also was a real problem that started in the 60’s. It too, was a hip thing to say. In college in the late sixties I was around a lot of people who used “you know” all the time. When I began teaching in 1970 I worked very hard to eliminate “you know” from my speech, and it took several months until I’d eliminated it.
      The use of like also does act like a pause, but the speaker can keep holding on to their part of the conversation without having someone butt in and offer their idea of a word or idea the person might be ready to say after a pause. Because I don’t use fillers in conversation, I sometimes get interrupted if I pause too long. But I’m NOT frustrated enough to begin using “like”. Yet.

      • =) So interesting, Janet. The historical comparisons you draw and your admirable hold-outs against fillers even through interruptions. Keen of you to observe a difference in the function of the like between its inception in the 50s and abuse in the 90s. Thanks so much for your three cents!

  4. It seems to have a couple of distinct identifiable uses, but to my mind its primary and perhaps original function is that of an Intensifier. From Wikipedia: “An Intensifier is a linguistic term (but not a proper lexical category) for a modifier that makes no contribution to the propositional meaning of a clause but serves to enhance and give additional emotional context to the word it modifies.” It’s almost as if the speaker intends to help create a visual image of what they’re trying to convey by adding the word like: “She was like acting all insane just because she broke a nail.” So in a sense, its use is similar to the word “virtually”. “She went virtually insane just because she broke a nail.”

    • I’m not sure “virtually” is the word there but your hypothesis did cross my mind and I actually did find it while putting the post together. I came across this at the same time, that the “like” is also used as a hedge. I’m more inclined to your theory:

      A hedge is a mitigating word or sound used to lessen the impact of an utterance. Typically, they are adjectives or adverbs, but can also consist of clauses. It could be regarded as a form of euphemism.


      There might just be a few insignificant problems we need to address. (adjective)
      The party was somewhat spoiled by the return of the parents. (adverb)
      I’m not an expert but you might want to try restarting your computer. (clause)

      Hedges may intentionally or unintentionally be employed in both spoken and written language since they are crucially important in communication.
      Point is, it’s become a multipurpose word – the different functions I’m talking about with the other commenters. It’s grown tentacles and rooting itself deeply into spoken English, a vernacular kids are picking up at younger and younger ages.

      • I will offer up a theory on the origins of ‘like’s current usage.

        I believe that it started with appropriate use of simile. However, as some people would find themselves starting a simile they couldn’t articulate, they would act out what person or thing was like at the time, possibly finishing with ‘this. “He was acting like this. *charade* You know… crazy.” Then as people became too lazy to charade their simile or weren’t able to do the charade due to circumstances, the ‘like’ became the intensifier for a poorly articulated simile. “He was acting like crazy, you know?” The use as a filler would have started the same way, but served to buy time until the thought could be completed by the speaker. Now, the ‘like’ seems to be absolutely necessary in a society that is in love with passive aggression. I don’t use it…. like duh… but I think my lack of filler use strikes some people as harsh and too direct for their ‘like’ing. 🙂

      • Yes, I’ve discussed the simile, the comparative usage, and stalling for time with a number of responders. Fair description, Mark. Huh, can you explain?

        “Now, the ‘like’ seems to be absolutely necessary in a society that is in love with passive aggression.”

      • I don’t know…. could you, like… turn down the TV. I have to get up early in the morning. Rather than… Please turn down the TV. I have to get up in the morning. The pausing in the ‘like’ is meant to diminish (rather than enhance) the intensity of your feelings about your inconsiderate roommate. Getting the point across without being construed as overtly aggressive or confrontational.

      • You know me! Gotta keep it fresh and interesting around here 😉

        Since you’re a linguist. I am quite curious to hear what your ruminations elucidate!

      • Whatever I may have to offer are in my replies to the informative comments that came in, the findings from my canvassing. So interesting. I shared my concern about the comparative use (overuse) in reply to Joshua. Valley Grail was super helpful. Others, too. I sent this post to my old linguistics professor today.

      • If you want to hear a REALLY good parody of valley girl talk, then you must listen to this! Can’t believe no one mentioned this already (or did I miss it?).

        If you must have a visual (but worse sound quality)

        WARNING! Hearing ‘like’ this many times may cause you to, like, totally freak out!

      • It wore me down, bEat me down, before I got halfway. OMG! CannOt believe this is what girls aspired to emulate..and then adults, men and women, the world over have embraced for their personal dialect.


      • You can say that again! I agree with the person that said it started as good fun, mocking such a hyperbolic form of speaking, but it became SO much fun and so easily imitable that everybody was doing it. And now…. 😦

        There’s just something about (southern) California that’s irresistibly fun to poke fun at, while being totally enviable at the same time. Perhaps it’s the presence of the TV and film industry that makes Californian dialects catch like wildfire (maybe a pun meant there). I could talk about the popularity of surfer talk, but I know that’s been discussed.

        Anyway, here’s one more parody of the Californian dialect. It’s so ridiculous that the actors can’t keep a straight face. This one is current, however.

      • Ok, that was weird. And painful. I’m not along the coast and don’t keep company with people who care about the stuff these characters do so I didn’t really relate. It’s funny and freaky!! Don’t send me any more vids LOL.

        Hug, buddy.

  5. Do you ever listen to “A Way With Words” on NPR? They might’ve answered this already.
    But you’re right, it does replace ‘says’. And I think it’s awesome – she was all like, ‘that Holistic Chick is so strict! with her inglesh rules!’ But it also replaces ‘um’. So like, what’s the story? So um, what’s the deal?

  6. I never caught that, Scott. I would be interested. I take notes off NPR segments, seeds for posts.

    LOL Ok, so you got me laughing. I guess I should let you know the day you bomb your record and don’t score a laugh. You might chk out the other uses of “like” I’m discussing with the other readers.

    Holistic Chick

  7. When the movie Valley Girl came out, a few of the girls in school starting talking like this…annoying ~ but it certainly does have its place in the English language.

      • It has definitely taken root in our language…I would guess that it began with Valley Girls and initially was used within that “social group” but not elsewhere. These days, it seems that the word has transformed itself to a point that it has adapted itself into many different socio-economic groups and writing, and it is like, pretty impressive. Strange how after 30 years, it is such a solid part of our spoken vocabulary…even though I do not like it much at all 🙂

  8. I know personally speaking I adopted the “like, like, like” habit because that’s how the other girls were speaking when I moved to California and I wanted to fit in. It definitely dilutes the potency of what is being said and takes up unnecessary space in a sentence and in the air in general, D!

    • Do you still use it, esp with friends, and do others in the Philippines?

      (You didn’t catch it. =) This was the post I had hinted at when you mentioned the “like” in regard to women. He he)

      • You are right! I did miss it.. and it was up front and center too. (I’d stick some sort of smiley emoticon here but I don’t think there is one that is a GRRR– and a grin at the same time.) Yes, I sometimes still do- it’s very California-speak still-despite knowing better. People in the Philippines don’t use like, but they have their own “like”-type words that have become part of the lingo.

      • “hey have their own “like”-type words that have become part of the lingo. ” AH. Fascinating to me as a linguist. So it’s used liberally and for more than one purpose?

      • I think the younger people- whatever is trendy at the time. I think it gives a sense of belonging and comradeship… and also there is that underlying diffusing of the power of what is being said. I never realized until now that was operating underneath the surface.

      • Mmm. You point to another aspect of this mystery, D., the sense of belonging. It’s almost like a dialect that joins a (larger and larger now) segment of the population.

        Several others, incl Joshua and Bronwyn, articulated the diffusing though not in the way you’re looking at it. I agree with them. I’m curious as to why you suppose we’d want to diffuse the pOwEr of the utterance.

      • I don’t think we even realize that is what is happening- it’s just fun and like speaking a “belonging” language. But perhaps there is also an internalizing of conditioning, for a lot girls, at least to lose the potency of our voices. It almost feels like a voluntary act when it happens- at least I know for me that is what it felt like- so that may be a factor.

      • Don’t know if you realize you could collect and piece together your comments here for a post. =) Huh. A way to give up our better, thoughtful voice, exchange it for acceptance in a cooler crowd…

        Thanks so much, Diahann. Did NOT expect this post to get so deep.

        Love it.

        No obligation (really) but you might find LesFemmesVoice’s input interesting in its intelligence and helpfulness.

  9. I hesitated before putting a like on this post.
    I thought it is not a like, like you know what I mean like.
    It is a genuine like for a post that dislike something I dislike.
    Without a script actors are inter viewed on TV and these celebraties are lost for words.
    They um and are saying you know what I mean, like, you know, yeah you know what I mean, that’s the way it is.
    Their fans mimic this, like if you know what I mean.
    But people like me don’t like or know what they are trying to say.

  10. Please forgive me for not being able to read this article. I handed my phone to my hubby and listened to him and wondered how he braved so many “likes”.

    I have had fun with the accent before as I love all accents….but I agree with you precious friend ❤

  11. There was a TV show in 1982 titled Square Pegs. The original Valley girl played by Tracy Nelson. It was a parody, a stereotypical joke about semi-affluent girls living a too full of themselves life in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. Unfortunately, it’s silliness and absurd speech patterns hooked a generation who took it seriously, and it grew and grew. Like, whatever,way, totally; just a few of the colloquialisms of the day. Like is probably here to stay. We seem to feel obligated to alter the language to accommodate common usage. Sad but true.

    • Wow. And that’s great your stories of TV shows from the past are helpful here. =) And I would think the show was making plain what had already sprouted in the 70s. You put it well, that it ended up hooking a generation. Augh…

      • The TV show, Square Pegs, was about a couple high school girls who wanted to fit in with the popular girls who were the original Valley Girls, led by the roll Tracy Nelson played. Adults were not really a part of the experience. The show was a comedy; never conceived as a catalyst for language evolution. It’s always interesting to recognize the influence our entertainment industry has on our culture, intended or not. By the way, your most excellent post ( that’s from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) has generated wonderful response from readers. Good job!!

      • You are very welcome! I am so happy my love of TV, and the years I have spent a devoted fan would be of use someday! Ha! I always told my parents I was not wasting my time.

  12. You are like, sooo correct, Diana, OMG! 😉 My teen daughter uses these (and others) with monotonous regularity…it’s like sooo ubiquitous (and we’re from Australia!)

  13. In Eastern Canada in the 80’s the word “like” was used to parody those who were self-aggrandizing, dramatic and flighty. To the best of my knowledge it didn’t take hold in the common lexicon – except as a tease or taunt. “He was so, like, pretty until we like threw him into the lake.” It could be used to a person’s face but more often when describing that person to others (usually with derision). “Her like pomeranian was so like proud of it’s new like hair style.” Makes fun of both the dog and it’s owner. Anyone using it in regular conversation would be mercilessly mocked (usually with constant repetition of “like”) until they either ceased or retreated in embarrassment. It never occurred to me to wonder why it was used in the first place as it was always a term indicating the vapidity of the user. I live in central Canada now and haven’t heard “like” used this way in decades. I’m surprised to hear it has grown in use in the US.

    • I was waiting for input from Canada. I wondered about the East and West there, had my hunches that the LiKe made its happy way up the CA coast. Interesting that all’s quiet in central Canada – and that those who tried to take up the LiKe to fuller usage would be mocked. In the US, the silliness has become standard colloquialism. Valleygrail shed some light on the origin.

  14. I personally get irritated not because of use of fillers like ‘like’, but due to the fact that people don’t want to allow the time deserved by the listener to digest what has been said. The pause between two consecutive statements helps in proper exchange of thoughts, I believe…

    • Excellent reflection on the pause that’s really part and parcel of healthy communication, thinking, and life. Joshua and I talked about this in the comments. So the question is why we’re afraid of the pause, why we’re so impatient to roll right over our own words, why we’ve jettisoned structured sentences for rambling streams. Thanks.

  15. Even worse than “So he was, like, freezing” is when it replaces the word ‘said’: “I said, so are you going, and he was, like, yes, but Courtney was, like, I am am so not going, so I was, like, well I am, like, so totally not going either” and on, and on!!!

    • That’s what I said. That it’s replaced the “said”. Scary thing is that’s not the only amorphous role the “like” has come to play. It’s just all over streams of speech.

  16. Here’s my take (authority: I just used it in a blog post title last week 🙂 ).

    It’s definitely in one way an age/class/social marker. In other words, there’s a certain “it doesn’t matter why we use it I’m just showing you I belong to this social group” aspect about it.

    It’s definitely in one way a pause, like “um” or “er”.

    I think in a loose sense it often denotes “similarity” – much *like* the actual definition of the word. So it means you’re, like, speaking roughly, sort of thing. Like, you know what I mean, I haven’t expressed it precisely or accurately, but, like, you know?

    This can also be transferred to the “he said” aspect. You’re not just going to report the speech, you’re going to try and do a whole impersonation. But it’s going to be an approximate impersonation because what are you, a professional actor? and anyway you might want to exaggerate a bit for effect, so what he said was this, but that’s a boring piece of chit-chat, so instead he was like, “Whatever!” (theatre voice, jazz hands, melodramatic expression).

    I use it from time to time, usually depends to whom I’m speaking and/or what sort of mood/level of seriousness I’m trying to convey. I tend to substitute “uh” or “sort of thing” or “like this” for classier and more serious conversations.

    • *Side grin* Ok, so you capped the various functional aspects that came up in the discussion. I said to Joshua on the comparative use of the word:

      Actually, your question crossed my mind. That is why I shared that I’d looked at the usage from different angles. You are onto something and my concern is how using the “like” in that capacity will increasingly give the speakers (esp kids) license for cloudy thinking. (Because you no longer have to be crisp and nail your intent or crystallize your thoughts to begin with. Just use the comparative “like”.)

      I LiKe your elaboration (re: the impersonation).

      It creeps up in my speech at times and aggravates me when it does. I cringe when tweens/teens who come to play with my son (so I can write!) go all out. Don’t want him picking it up.

      Hadn’t realized you wrote on this? Send me back a link.

      • I didn’t write on the usage of the word – I used the word in a recent title (“Yeah, but, like, we’re totally going to Phuket”). Analysing post-hoc, I was trying to make myself sound air-headed, so there you go 🙂 .

        Yes, I wanted to chime in agreement with basically every explanation I read in the comments. And whilst I take your point on fuzzy thinking, I keep coming up with other ways to quality what you’re saying. Kind of. A bit. A little. More or less. And then I think well, a lot of things are *sort of* fuzzy and hard to articulate just inherently, and it’s not always a bad thing to make the listener put in some of the work to fill in the details. There’s probably a time and place.

        What would Wittgenstein say?

      • Ha ha you made me smile with your attempt at air-headedness.

        I think you meant “other ways to qualify what you’re saying.” Not nitpicking. Was just trying to understand. Yes, not always a bad thing. But obviously the qualifier has gone carte-blanche, ignored its time and place. We’re just way beyond any legit behavior in inviting the reader to fill in the details.

        “and hard to articulate just inherently,”

        Well, that’s what good communication’s about, right? Aiming for the articulation, not that we have to go around being eloquent. =)

        And I dunno what Wgt would say. ^^ Quite the strange phenomenon they would not have dreamed of in his time.

  17. So many commenters have already pitched in that anything more may be like (ha-ha) bringing coals to Newcastle. However…. To answer your question about the ’50s and 60’s (and before): No, there was then no “like” as a conversational filler, or marker, or synonym for “said.” Sloppy speakers relied heavily on “um.” (Or “er.”) When my children were growing up, in the late 70’s and early ’80’s, I noticed the arrival of “goes” as a lower class synonym for “says.” I.e. — “So he goes, “No I don’t want to,” and I go, “But you have to.” “Like” has not driven “goes” away; they are frequently heard in conjunction, even now: “So he goes, like, “No, I don’t want to,” and I go, like, “But you have to.”

    By the way, “you know” often runs “like” a not very close second: “I was in Marshall’s, you know, and I was, like, wandering through the shoe section, you know, and suddenly I was, like, “O my God, there it is!”

    Unfortunately, “like” seems not to drop out of speech even after the speaker has grown up. That’s why we are now hearing it out of the mouths of mothers, passing it on to the next generation. Who will not only retain it but develop a newer corruption of spoken language all their own. Stay tuned!

    Incidentally, although I agree that “like” is in general a class thing, it isn’t entirely that anymore. I live in Princeton, New Jersey where I have heard it out of the mouths of Princeton University students while waiting on the station platform for the train to New York.

    Has anyone noticed that people for whom “like” is a verbal crutch also tend to end their declarative sentences with a rising inflection, as if it were a question? As in: “She was, like, really ugly?”

    • N, I am loving (while hating, if you know what I mean!) your contribution.

      Woman, it’s scary: you do your sample sentences with the “you know” a little too well LOL.

      “Like” has not driven “goes” away; they are frequently heard in conjunction, even now: “So he goes, like, “No, I don’t want to,” and I go, like, “But you have to.”


      That’s the thing. What I was saying in so many words and what we are together laying bare is how increasingly the “like” is losing its hold as a class marker. Now this is interesting. It apparently began as a parody of the well-to-do Valley Girl, then became a marker of the lower class (because the educated didn’t go around using it). But it’s leveled out because the masses have embraced it. As with the “goes” that stood for “says”. I grew up with it and it was never my feeling that it was really a marker for the lower class as it was natural colloquial speech (meaning, over time it loses its class distinction).

      I love the action research that’s coming in: “I have heard it out of the mouths of Princeton University students while waiting on the station platform for the train to New York.” I grew up in NYC, graduated from Univ of PA, and have visited Princeton.

      I think the use of the like is so profuse it runs amok with all inflections and none but I will keep an ear open on your hypothesis. Thanks so much for a yummy discussion!

  18. Oh I also lament over this one. I noticed the abuse of the word ‘like’ over a decade ago. I sometimes slip up and occasionally use it, but I try not to let that happen. I spend a lot of time with teens and kids, and I challenged them to quit using the word that every time we hear one another use it, I pinch them or they pinch each other. It’s not as effective though because usually it’s them running away from me rather than correcting their improper use of the word. But at least they are now conscious of it; I guess it’s a start.

  19. In my youth, I used like all the time. Every fifth word, I think you said. I might have used it every third. Now, I use it less, but it does creep in there occasionally. I cringe once the word is out, but I think it’s a bad habit. You can eradicate most of the slips, but some just persist when your mind is occupied.

  20. I felt like I wanted to like post more than once. So.. how is to know that I like reading your posts? 😉 Thanks for sharing and have a blessed and beautiful day like every day. 😉

  21. What many people don’t realize is that language is constantly changing and evolving. Of course we don’t speak the same way that people 100, 50 or even 20 years ago were speaking. But that’s the beauty of language! We are constantly inventing new ways to express ourselves that fit our own worldview, perspective and the “zeitgeist” of our generation. The only languages that don’t exhibit change are dead languages.

    Additionally, people have pretty much always used “filler” words. “Like” is just a more recent version. Even more importantly, many people who argue against the use of “like” claim that it is “meaningless” and “serves no purpose.” There are very, very few instances when speakers use a word that serves no communicative purpose, and “like” is no exception. Take these examples from a really great article from Time:

    -In the sentence “She was like, ‘Get out of my face,” the word signals the beginning of a quote and is known as a quotatative compartmentalizer.
    -In the sentence “It’s going to take me like forever to get there,” it functions as an approximative adverb, signaling how strongly to interpret the following word; almost and barely play similar roles.
    -In the sentences “I stole a panda. Like, I couldn’t live without him,” like is a discourse marker, a word used at the beginning of a sentence indicating that a clarification of what has just been said will now be given; one might similarly use I mean to introduce more information.

    You can find the full article here (it actually provides a lot of great insight into language change/ grammar in general – I definitely recommend it):

    Sorry, I didn’t mean for this comment to become so huge, but I have one final point to make… I think that this word would have much less stigma attached to it if it’s origins didn’t lie in teenage girls. Teenage girls have actually always been on the cutting edge of language change, coining new terms that eventually become part of the mainstream. “Like” is another one of those, and despite the fact that it has become incorporated into the mainstream, I think that people’s awareness that it started as part of “Valley girl” speech has caused it to retain some sort of stigma. Because, you know, teenage girls are frivolous airheads so why should we be imitating their speech? Another article for your reference…

    Again, I didn’t mean to go on a big rant or anything, and I don’t mean any of this to sound like I’m attacking or anything. I’m just really passionate about this kind of stuff and wanted to add in my two-cents 🙂


    • I will get to the links when I come up for air. =) I appreciate the time you took. I would love clarification or correction on this but it seemed the original Valley Girls were older women from a more affluent social class as I noted in the post. But then apparently the speech caught fire among the airhead type (if I may be so blunt in the interest of time) and I’m guessing the VG became recast as the ditzy teen.

      The deconstruction you shared actually unlocked a lot of the mystery I had tried to while whacking away at it as a linguist. It’s just exasperating WHY we came to feel we needed double adverbs when an adverb (that is, alone) IS a qualifier.

      Another suspicion I have is the question to what extent we are excusing or lending credibility to what really might amount to sloppiness of speech. Since when have we taken the liberty to assign so many functions to one word? Why bother varying and enriching our lexicon, then?

  22. I pressed the like button on this post and it was like so like cool – sorry could not resist! Like is way to common of a word lately and thrown into sentences like way too many like times. I have even seen it creep into my every day world. For instance, certain people are going to like me today and maybe later on not so much. Just Weird! Have a Like Great Day 🙂

  23. I like (and liked!!) this post Diana…totally…or, as they say over here, “It’s well cool”…
    Seriously though, I would love to know how it crept in…interesting 😉

      • Ahh…yes, very interesting…The UK has so many different dialects despite being such a small country! The ‘Essex Way’ kind of chat is very much epitomised for it’s use of the ‘well cool’ and ‘totes jel’ and ‘Shamazing’…that kind of thing. Yes, ‘like’ too. Very much a generational thing though…or maybe I’m just way out of touch, lol 😉
        …meaning that I used to think that ‘lol’ meant ‘lots of love’ not ‘laugh out loud’… haha 😀
        Enjoy your weekend… 🙂

  24. My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that conversation is briefer now, due to texting, social media, whatever (“whatever,” a whole other post). So, instead of saying or writing a description of a person’s mood or personality, the speaker will mimic the person’s mood and personality and use the short cut of “like.” Instead of saying, “Fred was shy and awkward and mumbled, “Thanks,” looking at his feet,” people will say he was all like “Thanks,” and act shy and awkward as they’re saying it, looking at their feet. Anyway, I hope this like makes sense. Whatever.

    • *Chuckle* For some reason, I was amused to hear the whatever out of you.

      Seems the contracted communication of the postmodern/information age has served to deepen and widen its reach. But the phenomenon came on the scene before the advent of texting and social media. And yes, I’ve been discussing the dependency on mimicry in the comparative use of the “like” with Joshua, Bronwyn, and others. Thanks, J.

      • You might find this blip from the Daily Telegraph interesting:

        So you think language is deteriorating?
        Mark Forsyth
        The Daily Telegraph
        First it was like. Now it’s so. It has become one of those words that begin every sentence – “So, how are you?”– the kind of word people seize on and “mercilessly beat the meaning out of”. It’s especially popular in Silicon Valley: Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, has been taken to task by The New York Times for abusing it. There are theories about this. Nerds like so, it’s claimed, because it suggests logical implication: so as in therefore. The truth is more prosaic. “It’s a filler-word” and we all need filler words because the mouth works faster than the brain. It’s like Harold Wilson’s pipe. The Labour PM didn’t smoke in private; but it helped him through interviews. Asked a question, he’d “fill it, light it, inhale, exhale, and all the time was secretly thinking”. So it is with so. And en fait, or for that matter Euuugh, in French. So isn’t even an original filler. Shakespeare used it (“So now I have confessed that he is thine”); as did Byron (“So we’ll go no more a roving”). So no need to get all upset about so. One just wishes it wasn’t so bland. Were people to begin sentences with fillers like I say! or Gadzooks, “Silicon Valley would be a much better place”.

  25. I hit the like button, Diana. As for your question to ‘older’ people who were around in the 50s and 60s (OMG, they’re like old ), I distinctly remember my English teachers telling us that ‘like’ was an overused and abused word. In other words, use something else. –Curt

    • Not overkill but quite a humorous thing coming from you, buddy: OMG, they’re like old”.

      You saying people used it in that fashion in the 50s and 60s?? You’re talking of Northern CA, right?

      • I am talking Northern California, but it was more along the line of being an overused word. I think the ‘like’ you are talking about came from the Valley Girls in Southern California. Some usage may have come from early pot users as well. Like WOW, that ice cream really tastes good. –Curt

      • Huh. Well, that’s the ques. How did it get overused? My theory was the abuse migrated north (and east). It hadn’t occured to me that the LIKE might’ve sprouted from different sources. Another commenter mentioned the surfers in the 60s and Scooby Doo.


      • I mentioned this above, but I’ll mention it again, in the 50’s beatnik hipsters used “like” . “Like, it’s craaazy, man.” That’s probably where the surfers, and then Scooby-Doo’s writers got the idea. Does anyone know if it was hipster talk in the 30’s, i.e. “Reefer Madness”?

        I find language and it’s evolution fascinating, thank you all for the enlightenment, entertainment, and a huge amount of food for thought. So glad I found A Holistic Journey.

  26. Ok Diana, I just like ‘liked’ this post. Should I have???? hehehe 🙂 Get it?
    When I was a teenager, I was hopelessly addicted to this ‘like’ epidemic. I never do that anymore though. It was so bad that certain people would joke about it. So I guess it’s still a biggie in the States eh.

      • I was in Vancouver. I will check out the chat. hehe.
        I think I read a comment from someone on your blog that mentioned social media. This commenter thought that it was because of social media. I don’t buy that for a minute because I was saying it like crazy way before social media. Way before the internet in fact.

      • Hmmm, interesting what Paul said. Having been out of Canada (living terms) for the past 14 years, I can’t really say anything about it now-a-days. For me, saying like was exactly what you had mentioned: the valley-girl, flighty, ditsy sort of thing. Unfortunately. Eek, I can’t even believe I’m confessing to that. Much different now.

  27. Your conversation with Joshua was “awesome” (another recently popular word). When I was a young adult in the 70s, much was said about the rush of the rat race (I always interpreted that as a race as in running, not as in ethnicity). I continue to hear that life is faster than ever. If we’re going to take breaks, I’d rather do it with “like”ing, than some other option.

    My explanation for the original use of “like”: its odd placement in sentences attracts attention with a sense of condescending humor, like the Valley Girls liked to do. I expected this trend to end with the TV series. As far as I can tell, it is only spoken, not written. When I say, “I was, like, totally confused,” or something like that, it gives me a chance to take my breath before I say the punch line with drama.

    I don’t recall hearing it being used before the show became popular, and then it was used with deliberate reference to the Valley Girl bigger-than-life characterizations on Square Pegs. Pop culture persists. I liked the line in the intro, “One size does NOT fit all.”

  28. In 1961, there was a Dobie Gillis tv show with the title “Like Mother, Like Daughter, Like Wow.” I think this was originally beatnik slang. So, I think that would be the 1950’s. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was used in the late 1940’s.


      • ???! A new piece to the puzzle. REally! Well look at that show title. It predates the Valley Girl. You guess as far back as the 40s, huh? If you can manage, I just replied to Curt right above you in the thread who – like Nina – didn’t hear it before the 70s.

        Piecing together what has come in so far, it seems the Valley Girl parody ignited the LIKE that had come into silly play in some circles already.

  29. It is worrying. The term among others robs language of its directness. In addition to impeding the capacity for varied expression. Like replacing all the other possible descriptive words that might have better defined the moment. I think this might tie into Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” on some level.

  30. I have never cared for the word like within speech- I noticed it for the first time when Clueless came out when I was a tween. I don’t care for that word either, I have found a way to embrace it, and attempt to change my own speaking and writing patterns to exclude the word- yet I fail. It is so very ingrained into our society that I can not escape it. Thus, I try, and try to not like; like- and yet it is what most people who blog look for the most- a like. Most of us, who write for ourselves, do not care, but the word that began as an addition to a normal sentence has now overtaken every form of social media. I love Pinterest and Etsy merely for their use of “Favorite” vs. the dreaded “like”. Thanks for giving breath to my thoughts! Love reading your posts- its a “favorite”.

    • That’s an interesting point on the monotonous abuse of the word, that we’ve brought in the LIKE even into social media. And I quite appreciate your very sweet sentiment, M. =)


  31. WAIT! What I meant was, it’s so common you wouldn’t notice it, unless you were a linguist or whateva! Not that it’s unremarkable.

      • I’m not sure. I was doing it in the 90s, not sure how far back before that it would have gone. I imagine some other sound would have been used if not ‘like’, because in the countryside they frequently put ‘hai’ on the end, which we all laugh about. I’ll need to ask about.

  32. It seemed to appear over here in the UK in the mid 90’s and has crept into our vocabulary too. Sadly, I think it’s here to stay for the moment but I’m not fond of it at all. There is a similar phenomenon, the ‘you know,’ that our footballers use a lot when being interviewed. That one fills the same spot as the other and is equally irritating.

  33. I seem to use the filler that fits the Culture… lived in California and used like..and really..Lived in Midwest used ya know and so…live in Hawaii and use yea -no…wat eva…you could open an explosion of fillers just by entertaining the question what is a filler? Could it be that a filler like “like” is simply a way for each other to connect… My sister and I have this uncanny thing about being able to speak dialects..maybe “like “was just a way to fit you know what I mean..Te he.. Heart to heart Robyn

    • I just wanted to say my aunt was an English teacher and I never used fillers in front of her! … Also helping out in gifted and talented education….(as I know you were a teacher in it) …not everyone thinks like us…most do not think..”I think”..about a filler…surrounding myself with brainiacs all my life ..and being one myself.. .fillers can fill my rebellious side …even though I would intentionally say fillers to be funny…sometimes I had no desire to have an intelligent conversation…call it outside the box …or inside my own box…as most knew I came from this very “sophisticated family”…and humor kept me from being way too serious! Heart to heart Robyn

  34. Perhaps as we in the ‘western world’ spin faster and faster under the dials and knobs of technological advancements, ‘like’ has become become the new LOVE without all the messy commitment? Great piece by the way. I LOVED it!

  35. I agree that “like” is often used as a substitute for “um,” “er,” “ah,” and their ilk. That’s what makes listening to it so tiring. Our brains have to sift out the chaff to get at what’s being communicated.

  36. Very interesting post Diana. It is strange how these types of words find their way into many a conversation. It actually irks me when someone is speaking and using ‘like’ throughout a conversation. It has no value unless it’s used as a comparison or to show appreciation by hitting a ‘like’ button. 🙂

    • Read it. I don’t buy it. =) And I think they really mean “self-conscious,” not conscientious. I think a conscientious speaker would take care to speak more thoughtfully. Thank you for the input. =)


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