“Like” is a bad word. It’s, like, an omnipresent filler that your professor, your boss and your mom don’t want to hear. I don’t really like the word but never gave much thought as to why.
Then came “ya know?”. Everyone started tacking “ya knows” onto the ends of their statements. The thing is, sometimes I don’t know—ya know? Like, I would automatically be nodding my head even if I had no clue what was going on.
So I started thinking about these two bits of language, “like” and “ya know,” and why they are so irksome. Why did I so disdain words that had entered my daily vernacular?
The Oxford English Dictionary (to English majors, simply Scripture) defines “like,” among other things, as “Having the same characteristics or qualities as some other person or thing; of approximately identical shape, size, etc.,...similar; resembling; analogous.” Basically, “like” is used to compare things, similar to “as if.”
When someone says “as if,” we know the bit that comes next is going to be a comparable something, differing slightly from what is actually being described. For example: The middle-aged woman broke down in sobs. It was as if she had just seen Robert Pattinson. The middle-aged woman wasn’t crying exactly like she had seen R.Pat, but it was, like, almost the same.
When our language is riddled with these almost-comparisons it just gets us farther from our exact meaning. Every word that follows “like” is thus a watered-down version of its former denotation. These soggy little turds add words but detract worth. Wouldn’t you agree that “like” just qualifies our statements until they are limp with un-meaning? Huh?
And then there’s “ya know?” The phrase demands agreement, even when there is none. It’s casual, appealing and maybe has frosted tips. “Ya know” is the quarterback in every 90s film that asks you (eee!) to homecoming and you, like, have to say yes … even if you’re 20 and can’t legally go to a high school dance.
All language is metaphor, but “likes” make language a metaphorical metaphor, and that’s just too much. I mean, roses by like, any other name, smell sweet. Ya know?
“Ya know” keeps our listeners on our side, even when they’re not. There’s nothing more terrifying (or refreshing) than a friend who responds with, “No, I’m not following,” or, “I disagree.” These friends, flush with self-confidence, invoke the witchcraft of sincerity (plus regular witchcraft) and, instead of nodding along, remind us that we are idiots.
These little rhetorical farts in our language stem from our insecurity. We qualify everything with “like” because it dilutes what we have to say until it is in no way offensive. Increasing our vagueness also gives us a getaway if someone disagrees with us.
So what am I advocating? I don’t know...maybe say “like” and “ya know” less? If it doesn’t bother you, I guess that’s fine, keep saying it. Whatever. Your statements just won’t be as strong as they could be. Maybe I don’t want to have a strong argument, ya know? Maybe it’s endearing that everything I say ends with an upward inflection?
Nope. No one wants that. Cut the crap.
Megan Lester is a junior English and German major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.