Monday, March 19, 2007

Today's English lesson

From the American Heritage Book of English Usage:

Like, Wow

Tell it like it is.
It’s like I said.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
As these familiar examples show, like is often used as a conjunction meaning “as” or “as if.” In fact, writers since Chaucer’s time have used like as a conjunction.

But language critics and writing handbooks have condemned this use of like for more than a century, and a writer who uses it in formal style risks being tarred with their brush.

If you want to avoid this fate, use as or as if instead:
Sales of new models rose as (not like) we expected them to.
He ran as if (not like) his life depended on it.
Note, however, that there is sometimes a subtle difference between like and as if. With like, there is often a stronger suggestion that the following clause is true. For example, the sentence
The teachers treat her like she has real talent.
is not exactly equivalent to
The teachers treat her as if she had real talent.
The sentence using as if implies that her talent could be in doubt.

The most egregious misuse of like has arisen since the 1980s "Valley-Girl" fad and has infected the speech patterns of Americans across a broad range of ages and classes, from the very young to the middle-aged and beyond.
She, like, won't even listen to me when I try to tell her it's, like, not his fault he, like, took that other girl home in his car.
This sentence is perfectly normal speech in the high school halls where I teach, and I have a suspicion it's almost ubiquitous everywhere else in the US as well. It is meaningless and has no function other than as the "uhhh" of the modern day. It's a pauser, a filler. And trying to weed it out of my students' speech patterns is nothing short of impossible. They know not to use it in writing, mainly because they don't even realize they're using it when they're speaking.

Record yourself speaking in a normal conversation sometime, and see if this worthless filler virus has begun to plague your everyday speech. It might surprise you.

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