‘Like’ This, ‘Like’ That

If you have ever had a teacher who was picky about conversational grammar, chances are they have commented on everybody’s usage of the word like.

Of all the common grammar mistakes we make daily, ‘like’ is the worst of them.

Unfortunately, even the most cautious speakers end up slipping the word incorrectly into their sentences, often not even noticing they have done so. We use it so frequently, we have become desensitized to its incorrect usage and accept it in any conversation.

This acceptance is dangerous: when we fail to detect others misusing ‘like’, we are most susceptible to use it wrongly ourselves.

The false usage of ‘like’ has grown at an alarming rate in recent years, mostly through youth. As we have grown up we spent most of our time in school with other children, and thus most of our conversations happen amongst our peers. As we developed language skills, most of our practice and experience came from peer-to-peer interaction. Learning to speak, we mimicked the conversation of our friends, and so we also mimicked the incorrect usage of ‘like’.

This usage has grown like wildfire; the phenomenon of wrong like usage has spread up from youth into adults all around us.

Although less frequent offenders than ourselves, our teachers use the word wrong, our parents use the word wrong, and everybody seems to have jumped on the bandwagon.

This widespread desensitization of improper ‘like’ usage has greatly contributed to its acceptance and assimilation into common speech. We use ‘like’ as a verbal crutch. When we have nothing to say between two phrases, we say “like” to connect our thoughts, to make our conversation more fluid and less punctual. It adds informality to our speech, at the cost of grammar.

The trouble is that once we start saying ‘like’, it becomes a habit and bleeds into our formal speech. This can have serious implications when entering the workforce or presenting an important speech.

Oddly enough, we do not use like frequently in our written communication: it is strictly a verbal phenomenon. This is the silver lining to the ominous cloud of ‘like’: we are able to cut its usage out of our written vocabulary and therefore should be able to eliminate it from our verbal vocabulary.

This problem cannot be blamed on one person, or even a group of people. Well, maybe it can be pinned on the wane of focus on grammar in curricula across almost all schools. However, that is a situation out of our immediate control.

Right now, everyone can fix the situation by becoming aware of their own ‘like’ usage. Notice when it is used incorrectly. Through observation, everybody can detect when they use the word wrong.

After knowing when ‘like’ is used in the wrong context, it is only a small step to stop saying it. To help this cause, students can let their friends know when they use ‘like’ incorrectly- it does not have to be an obnoxious correction, it could be a kind reminder not to use it.

Currently at Olin, students are working towards this initiative. Challenge yourself to see how many incorrect ‘like’ uses you can pick up on in a day, and then drop off your tally in the West Hall 3rd floor anti-lounge for some candy. Start a “like jar” to deposit money when you catch yourself saying ‘like’ improperly.

If everyone can manage to reduce their ‘like’ usage, youth can inspire an important change in the verbal English language.