N OBODY SEEMS to like like —or nobody with access to a printing press. Letters to newspapers and comment pieces often harrumph about this new, meaningless filler word. Can't it, they wonder, somehow be eliminated? But academic linguists, at least, have a soft spot for like . They deal with even more of it than do most people. The average parent might see their children grow out of the like habit, but university lecturers have a constantly refreshed supply of 18-year-olds. Making a virtue of necessity, they have looked at the supposedly vacuous word in depth. Irritating or not, they have concluded, like is not new and is far from meaningless. As an expression of wonderment, sometimes referred to as "beatnik like", it is found in decades-old exclamations such as "Like, wow, man." This is now rare; one scholar even considers it to have been apocryphal, more ascribed to beatniks than actually uttered by them. Another version is "quotative like": "She was like, 'You can't do that', and I'm like, 'Yes I can'." That was already identified in the early 1980s, associated (as so many disparaged trends are) with young women, particularly those in the San Fernando Valley of Los… Read full this story
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