Beating The Likes Out

When did people start using “like” as a filler word?

Once upon a time it was “uh,” “er,” or “eh” that marked the hesitation or pause in speech.  These utterances still convey uncertainty and nervousness, and while they are killers in the legal and political professions, they are merely annoying and even elicit empathy from listeners.  Most of us can easily place ourselves in the proverbial hot spot, struggling for the right word, losing our place midsentence.  Even non-stutterers stutter sometimes.  I know I do.

Then there came “you know.”  This filler is aggravating unless, of course, a close friend is actually wondering if I empathize with his or her experience conveyed.  I sometimes use this two-word filler by accident, though I try to catch it when it slips out in conversation.  I check myself and make certain that in fact, I do wish to hear my companion’s opinion and am not just pulling him or her into a windy diatribe or simply making sure I have full attention.  For I recognize that I don’t want to be intimated in every scenario or to be forced to offer an opinion, so surely others don’t either.  “You know?”  No, I don’t and wouldn’t wish to conjecture.  Now I am finding myself embracing the newer version after watching The Wire. “You feel me?” may be street lingo, but it somehow evokes a sense of camaraderie.  I like that one, but it makes most people confused when I say it.

Then there’s “like.”  I cringe every time I hear this poor word that has been browbeaten to a nauseating death.  For I like “like.”  I use similes (a type of metaphor) occasionally in my writing and enjoy it in others’.  Oh, it can be overdone, for example, by famous authors who use it to make inanimate objects have living characteristics like a cyclone that twirls like a phalarope, spinning and pushing its prey upward to feed.  Of course, this is my simile, but my point is that some objects can and should be like themselves and not something else.  A cyclone is a cyclone.  Similes and metaphors can be so tiring.

The following examples use “like” correctly:

“I need to go like [as] my mother told me.”   (“Like” is a subordinating conjunction.)

“It is a view like [as] nothing you have seen before.”  (“Like” is a preposition.)

“Read books like [such as] Prodigal Summer to get a sense of Southern literature.” (“Like” is a simile.)

But in the case of the examples below, “like” is abused as colloquial quotatives rendering them pretty much worthless:

Like this is the best thing like I have ever seen.  Like you won’t believe it.”

You might say, “Wait!  Smart people talk like that sometime!”  I can only reply that sounding like an airhead is a dangerous habit that should be broken.  You might entertain other animated listeners, but using “like” as a filler word will get you nowhere in the job market and will mark you as undereducated or just plain nervous.

You feel me?






Add Yours
  1. 1
    Terri (Sandlin) Gobble

    The Pen is Mightier than the Sword! You hit that one on the nail Mimi (I know you go by Emily now-just reverting back to high school). Enjoyed your musings, and like (tongue in cheek) this is so true!!!

    • 2

      Thanks for visiting and commenting Terri! You may call me Mimi anytime. Lots of old friends & family do.

      I can’t believe more people don’t complain about hearing “like” all the time. It drives me nuts!

  2. 3
    Sandy Coomer


    This is (like) really good! I agree with you completely. I listen to my children (ages 15-24) use the word “like” in multiple sentences within one conversation. Then, I find myself drifting into the same habit! I will have to watch myself now!

    • 4

      Yes, please do! Since my girls don’t get into this lingo, I don’t fall into it as much. But, they catch me with “you know” or “you know what I’m saying” too much. I made booboos all the time, but I do try to correct myself. (Sadly, I end up stuttering when I catch myself mid-sentence.) Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. 5

    That’s funny, Emily. You’re right. People have been missusing “like” for a long time and it’s never sat right with me. Fortunately, I never got in the habit of saying it. I used to use “you know” a lot, but I’ve stopped that bad habit. I guess the best cure is being aware that you do it and catching yourself (even then, it doesn’t happen overnight).

    One of my biggest pet peeves is the misspelling of ‘too’ as ‘to’ in texting. That is the one that makes me crazy.

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