Take a second to consider how many times you say ‘like’ on a day to day basis. Note how many times you pepper your speech with this tiny, pointless word. It’s probably quite a lot. In fact, I’d dare to venture that it’s a lot more than you realise. It will crop up in every conversation you have, be it with friends, tutors or prospective employers. What’s more, it appears to be an affliction particularly common to our generation. You don’t tend to hear your Gran telling her friends how she ‘went to Tesco and there were, like, absolutely no frozen peas to be had anywhere.’

It’s only a little word, it adds no emphasis, elaboration or extra intrigue to what we’re saying and yet we say it all the time.

It’s almost an addiction. I find myself using ‘like’ as a conversational entrée, ‘oh my god, I have, like, so much to tell you…’ ‘like, just come here a second…’, ‘like I’ve been calling you all day!’

Sometimes I use it to fill a gap in my speech, other times it may actually function as it should and link two similar things, but generally it’s a word I just can’t seem to do without. If I was banned from saying ‘like’, I think I’d appear to have anomic aphasia and constantly be struggling to form coherent sentences.

Recently, it has become apparent that my speech patterns are beginning to annoy my older relatives, but didn’t seem to bother my eighteen year old sister in the slightest. On numerous occasions I was told ‘like’ is not necessary in that sentence, ‘gay’ could be rather offensive if used in front of someone with homosexual tendencies, ‘cheeky’ isn’t an appropriate adjective for a bottle of wine and that my rising intonation was putting everyone on edge because I always seemed to be making suggestions. I’ve heard similar comments from friends about the constant criticism from those older than us about the way we speak. They seem to think it’s because we watch too much Neighbours, because we don’t want to commit ourselves too strongly to our opinions, or because we’ve become almost addicted to decorating our speech with little fillers to fill any awkward gaps.

After many vicious jibes about our choice of adjectives and using the word ‘like’ from the elder generation, maybe we should consider talking like them for a day or two. Forcing us not to say ‘like,’ and to maintain an even tone throughout our utterances. I tried this for one day, and it proved impossible. My mother pointed out that I say ‘like’ and I don’t even realise I’m doing it. Fair enough, guilty as charged. It isn’t really the end of the world, to have less precise speech than old people, is it? Everyone our age does it, and it doesn’t look like we will stop it soon.

However, what really took the biscuit after this sharp exchange with my mother was that I then overheard a conversation between her and a friend on the phone which was about the upcoming sale at Marks and Spencer; she used the word ‘lovely’ sixteen times in approximately 3 minutes. My dad says ‘great stuff’ on a regular to excessive basis, usually when things aren’t that great which only creates confusion, my nan loves to tell me to ‘be careful’ even in the middle of her sentences about totally non-danger related topics, my tutors use the word ‘formative’ all the time in contexts which don’t demand such a label. It seems each generation has its own little speech idiosyncrasies, each age group as adamant of the necessity for their favourite turns of phrase as the next.

As such, I think ‘like’ is a guilty pleasure that isn’t going anywhere, no matter how many times we’re told it’s pointless and annoying. It may be a meaningless addition to our speech, but we all use and abuse it. I’ve had entire conversations in which I’ve understood a wealth of meaning from that little word, from ‘like, you know, it’s like so oh my god, like you know, like what should I do?’ i.e. ‘I’m overjoyed he text me but now I’m at a complete loss as to what to do because I saw him last night with that girl from geography’ to ‘like, yeah, whatever’ implying ‘go away, leave me alone, if I ever see you again I’ll be tempted to jump off the nearest bridge.’ It seems ‘like’ isn’t the idiot’s way of skirting around an issue after all, but in fact a time saving, space preserving word which we’ve adapted as a sort of social code word with numerous implications. It means just what we want it to mean in any given situation. And so a cheeky little ‘like’ seems like it’s here to stay…

Emily Winsor

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