Wednesday, October 18, 1995


IT'S like... so weird. It's like... unstoppable. There was a time when two senses of the word "like", suggesting a similarity or an affection, was all English speakers had to tackle. When a rogue "like"- showed up in the everyday speech of suburban Dublin, it was as a substitute for "eh or "urn", a sort patch to cover up a period of like... mental lag. But now things have gotten, like... way out of hand.

First off, it is the sound of the word that really grates. There is always a short anticipatory pause before it is spoken, then, if at all possible, the following clause climaxes in the slight rise in intonation that might ordinarily indicate like... a question mark? Once this simple formula is mastered, a universe of uncomplicated communication is opened up. Storytelling is hugely simplified as "like" can introduce a quotation ("he was like let go of me") while at the same time deferring any direct assertion of truth by offering a phantom simile.
The use of "like" in these situations abdicates the chore of interpretation as every happenstance becomes a scene from your very own soap opera. Instead of playing the author of a novel, one is simply re-reading a transcript.

This use of the word is hardly brand new. It was already part of a satirisable sub-cultural argot by the time Frank and Moon Unit Zappa had, their hit single, Valley Girl in 1982. Nevertheless, a couple of cassettefuls of 1990s television has helped bring -about the word's current ubiquity. You can look closely at My So- Called Life, The Real World, Friends or indeed the movie Claeless, and guess that they all have in common casts of young, white, middle class Americans. Their strongest similarity, however, is in their tallies of the word "like".

Everywhere, the word provides that 138 beats per minute under the sample of self-justification, riveting together a bout of hardcore storytelling. Whenever eye-witnesses tell the CBS evening news of the, shocking, litigatably traumatising event they were lucky enough to witness, it is the word for which they most often grope. "I was just across the road when there was this, like. ... screaming? and I was like... what's happening?' and my friend was like... get down?' and there was this like. . . really big explosion? Isn't it time you like... stopped saying that.


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