When President Trump tweeted about “being, like, really smart,” many people took the “like” as evidence to the contrary. It’s, like, a meaningless word that brainless people stuff into sentences! A fad among the younglings! As noted grammarian Robert Burchfield wrote, “Its use as an incoherent and prevalent filler” has become “an epidemic,” but it is “scorned by standard speakers as a vulgarism of the first order.”
Burchfield dated the start of the “like” epidemic to the middle of the 20th century. But we do like “like” sometimes. It may be weak tea compared to “love,” but every YouTuber is gunning for “likes,” and most people want to be liked (like Sally Field). That’s the verb like, which is not quite the same like, but they are related, way back. And even if we like to hate like, we like it so much that we keep coming up with new uses for it … nearly all of which someone hates for some reason.
Quite a few academic papers have been published on the different uses of like. Alexandra D’Arcy, a professor of linguistics at the University of Victoria, has published a whole book just on the four different types of the “filler” kind of like.
Four types? Yes, not all those filler likes are alike. And there are, like, several more kinds of like as well. Here are 12 likes for you to like — or dislike.
1. “Say it like you mean it.” Say it as though you mean it, surely? But people have been saying like this way — and meaning it — since at least the year 1400. Authors of grammar guides have opposed this use of like in modern days, but good authors have assiduously ignored them. In 1932, for instance, T.S. Eliot wrote: “When you’re alone in the middle of the bed and you wake like someone hit you on the head.”
That someone was probably a grammar grumbler. Oh, wait, it’s only like they hit you.
2. “Run like mad.” Run like someone who is mad? The issue with this like, which we’ve also been using since the 1400s, is not that another word would be better, but rather that some words seem to be missing. It also has a bad rap because of what this like is like — people do things like mad, like crazy, like nuts, but never like sane, like rational, like calm.
3. …read more