“Managing the Decline of, Like, a Great Language” by Barton Swaim. The Wall Street Journal, 4/20/2015
Judge Judy violently shook her head and waved her hands at the teenaged defendant.
“Just tell me what happened without using the word “like.”
The sheepish defendant got three words into his reply and realized he already used “like.” He started again and stopped at the same point. He tried a third time, but could not even begin. Judge Judy laughed and clapped. “See, see!” she said to Officer Byrd. “He can’t even talk without using ‘like.'”
The WSJ author, Swaim, was surprised when he received an email from an educated friend who said, “There were like 50 people there.” Has the teenaged obsession with the word “like” now affected his friend?
But Swaim thinks, “I wonder, then, whether some uses of ‘like’—some of the uses we think of as irritating and incorrect—might actually be useful. If it is pervasive and addictive, it must occasionally have genuine utility.” If we can legitimize those genuine uses, he tells us, perhaps this will end its overuse. (Good luck with that.)
The utility, he concludes, is to signal an approximation. His friend meant there were about 50 people there, not exactly 50.
My question is, What’s wrong with “about?” We already have an unambiguous word to indicate an approximation.
But this leads Swaim to a better example:
There’s, like, an adolescent arrogance about his attitude.
Here, “like” indicates “adolescent arrogance” may not be the right term, but something similar is true.
I will have to think about that. I am all in favor of creating new uses for language where it is needed (see posting “Roger People,” 5/20/2009), but only if it is needed. Certainly we are all sick of “like” peppered into every sentence, you know, like, just to give the speaker extra time to think, like “uh.”