"Like" abuse redivivus

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sun Apr 13 17:23:00 UTC 2008

On Apr 12, 2008, at 9:14 PM, Neal Whitman wrote:

> Alex D'Arcy has done some really interesting work on 'like', both the
> discourse-marker variety and the 'be like' variety. Her dissertation
> (http://www.ling.canterbury.ac.nz/personal/darcy/web%20documents/DArcy%20LIKE%2005%20ab.htm
> )
> shows discourse-marker 'like' steadily expanding its range of
> syntactic
> categories it can attach to, generation by generation. Check the
> rest of her
> CV for other material on 'like'.

just to remind our readers: D'Arcy had a nice piece on "like" in
AMERICAN SPEECH 82.4 (2007), a piece i recommended to ADS-L on
12/27/07 as an antidote to Safire's raving in his column of 12/23/07
that "like" "has been ripping through teenage lingo like a verbal
virus — challenging even _y’know_" and Safire's implicit claim that
"like" was just a meaningless noise that inarticulate teens sprinkle
randomly throughout their speech.

as jon lighter noted yesterday, "like" abuse (so-called) was a target
of  "Death of English" critics decades ago.  jon has the impression
that this tradition of ranting has been waning, but i see no evidence
that this is so; the War on "Like" continues with great passion.  here
are two Language Log postings of mine about the WoL:



(i have plenty more WoL material on file, but these are the only two
items i've gotten around to posting about.)

two observations about the warriors against "like":

one: they are deeply committed to their beliefs about "like" and those
who use it, and so are virtually impervious to information about these
matters.  scholars have been studying these things for 25 years, and
there's now a considerable literature about them.  from the earliest
studies on, everyone finds that "like" serves a number of specific
functions for its users and that each kind of "like" has its own
syntax.  and that "like" is by no means the property of the young and
the uneducated.  or a very recent development.

but the word hasn't gotten out.  not even to Safire, who presents
himself as an authority on language but (outrageously) continues to
retail his ignorant (i use the word literally) beliefs about "like".
not even Patricia O'Conner's sensible and informed discussion of
quotative "like" -- in a NYT "On Language" column last july (yes, she
was subbing for him) -- seems to have made any impression on him.
(that was 7/15/07, with quotes from Jennifer Dailey-O'Cain, Geoff
Pullum, and me; Language Log posting here:

   http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004973.html )

two, the warriors against "like" show undisguised contempt for those
they believe to be its principal users: young people, especially young
women (i comment on this in my Language Log postings about the WoL).
there's a cluster of attitudes here, in which all of the following are
devalued to some degree: young people, women, spoken (rather than
written) language, cultural innovations (including linguistic variants
that are believed to be recently innovated), non-standard linguistic
variants.  as i said in my National Grammar Day posting on Language
Log --


non-standard linguistic variants are treated as "intrinsically
debased".  spoken variants are treated as intrinsically vague, sloppy,
unclear, etc.; i have a posting in preparation on another old Safire
column in which he refers to "the natural sloppiness of the spoken
language" (this with reference to the "of" variant of exceptional
degree modification, as in "how big of a dog").  and so on.  as for
young people, everybody knows that kids don't know shit and reject the
wisdom of their elders.  as for women, everybody knows they're fluff-
headed and frivolous and can't think straight.



The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list