I studied many years ago with a teacher who taught parsing by using a common swear word in various functions in the sentence. While I do not agree with his ‘language of instruction’ he certainly highlighted that certain words have the versatility of a Kama Sutra devotee. One such word that has erroneously taken on such flexibility is the ubiquitous ‘like.’ It is the default word in the lexicon of most teens and, I am afraid to report, the contagion is spreading to the aging p’s too.
This infectious little homonym has infiltrated our every sentence. It has become the modifier de mode, but really it is just a nuisance word that is freckling the face of our grammar. It must be exterminated.
‘He like smiled at her.’
What does that mean? In the angst-filled years of adolescence, who needs this kind of ambiguity?! Did the lad grin, grimace or did she glimpse the leer of a player?
‘My teacher/mother/ annoying person in authority was like so cross.’
This sentence functions as either an understatement for the named adult’s ire or a hyperbole to indicate the victimisation of the innocent kid. The adult could have been actually and completely furious, and this report serves as a shrug-of-the-shoulders attitude to the wannabe tyrannical adult. Or the targeted senior is being demonised for merely correcting said delinquent. It’s a one-size-fits-all sentence – you have to admire the youngsters’ ability to over-dramatize each encounter and play the victim at the same time.
If you do not speak Teenage like a boss you may also need to know that ‘like’ can also mean ‘said’ in certain contexts:
‘Samantha: So when I saw him, I’m like: ‘Hey, George?’
That means she is speaking to him.
And whatever happened to using the word as a verb? ‘I like chocolate.’ has such a happy ring to it. Nowadays ‘Samantha likes George.’ doesn’t even mean that she admires him or finds him to be good company. It suggests she fancies her chances in a relationship with him – as if he’s some sort of ice-cream. (Rocky Road I’m guessing if she communicates in this manner.)
But the hormonal fluctuations of teenage crushes aside, what really annoys me is the sad loss of the use of the preposition to introduce quality similes. Our tongue is losing its richness of expression and the essays one marks are either peppered with terminally boring clichés or none at all. I suspect that some young writers may believe if they have used ‘like’ somewhere in the sentence, they have scaled the stylistic height of supposedly using figurative language.
And let me not get started on the Facebook ‘like.’ No amount of ‘liking’ photos of maimed children will end the scourge of child soldiers, debilitating diseases or famine. If the Joseph Kony controversy taught us anything, we should have learnt that the world will not be healed by pressing the ‘enter’ key. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy pressing ‘like’ on my friend’s new photos or humorous posts, but I still prefer a heartfelt message to this:
Let’s face it, there is a word for that picture: ‘love.’
Such icons are further reducing our power to articulate our thoughts and emotions and are returning us to an age of hieroglyphics as opposed to philosophical debate.
And then there is the ‘unlike’ button. For goodness sake, what happened to using ‘dislike.’ It is enough to induce a coronary in a grammarian.
Perhaps my foul-mouthed colleague had it right all along. I am so like over this word.
But don’t forget to ‘like’ this article.