“Like” in spoken English

“Like” has become one of the most popular words in spoken English. It was a marker I heard frequently this summer in the States, originating in teen-talk, but now firmly established in informal language. Just listen to My Brightest Diamond singer Shara Worden making small talk with fellow musicians Lisa Hannigan and Molloy Share (from 2:55).
She says, “I was at the Green Man Festival in Wales, and they had tons of kids there, and it was so muddy, it was muddy muddy muddy everywhere, and the kids were just having a great time in the, you know, playing in the mud, and the adults were, like, “Uh, uh, we hate the mud.” And the kids, like, really knew what to do with mud.”
Later, when she’s surprised to be hearing Radiohead in the background (10:15), she comments on her own surprise, in retrospect, saying, “And I’m, like, ‘Wait a second!’ ”
So she’s using “like” as a random spacer and as a comma before quoting someone. Other examples from the Urban Dictionary:
Spacer: “He was, like, about the same age as me, but, like, I wasn’t sure what he, like, wanted to do with me.”
Comma before a quote: “I’m, like, ‘Let’s do something together.'”

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Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

4 thoughts on ““Like” in spoken English”

  1. Hi Anne,

    Good you came up with this. The worst ‘offenders’ of ‘like’ I find in California, well teenagers in particular, for me, it really grates on my ears.
    Then the next worst offenders i.m.h.o. (!) (worse than like?) are the non-US-ers. I can tolerate it from Americans, to a certain extent but for the mimickers, I have no tolerance, maybe I should work on tolerance!!
    As far as I could hear Lisa Hannigan didn’t use it in that conversation.
    Speaking of, I saw her name on some posters when in Ireland. I asked around and found she was popular among the generation 20s early 30s. My nieces – couple of them – had been to her concerts and gave her great praise. They described her to the older generation as somebody who looks like one of the Amish people.
    Cheers, Joan

  2. Me too, Joan,

    I sometimes want to shake those teen offenders… 😉 On the other hand, I think we used to say “um” quite a lot when our teen brains shut down, as brains will.
    True, Lisa didn’t use “like” at all. Interesting. And OMG, you’re so right, she does look like she’s Amish!
    I wish I could go to the Electric Picknic Festival coming up in early September and hear all those great musicians. Eamonn wrote it up here: http://www.spotlight-online.de/travel/ireland/dancing-the-summer-away-at-the-electric-picnic

    Take care! Anne

  3. Another thing with like, that gives the French learners a problem, having understood like = aimer, is “What’s the weather like?”

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