Have you ever noticed how often the word like is used today? At least in the US, it crops up continually in all but the most formal of conversations. Furthermore, its once simple scope in similes and preferences has been stratospherically increased in the past two decades; like now commonly replaces ummm in the filler-word department, and about in the approximation sector. However, the most notorious and inexplicable use is best represented by an example:

Patsy: "So, what did Woodrow say?"
Agatha: "He was like, 'I have ridiculous allergies, man.'"

As you can see, the utilitarian word is now used to report speech, as well. The older generations, generally, and my father, specifically, rail against this development. They speak of the good-old-days and lament this base corruption of Shakespeare's language. However, suppose I shout over their mumbling to offer an alternative point of view. Regretfully, I shall have to resort to Latin to do so.

During my few years as a high-school Latin student, I came across across a bizarre set of verbs called deponents. Shunned by other verbs for their treachery, they were forced into hiding and thus missed the boat which carried over all the others into modern languages. It may seem a trifle hard on the deponent clan, but you hear of their true nature, all your sympathy will vanish forthwith. You see, deponents can only have passive forms ("he is called" instead of "he calls") but they are always translated as active. Such in-born deceit clearly labels them as objects of disdain.

Only one deponent managed to find a home in English; it lives in the expression non sequitur, which is used to describe something which does not follow logically. In fact, the phrase actually means "it does not follow" in Latin. However, a novice, misled by the guileful deponent, might well translate it as "it is not followed". As you can see, the apparently passive verb is quite active indeed.

Now, how does all this concern the present usage of like? If you look back at our sample discourse, you will see a construction which resembles the passive voice: "he was like" instead of "he likes" or something to that effect. I suggest that like is the first true deponent verb of the English language (sequitur isn't really an English word). Clearly, it has an active meaning, normally "he said." And clearly, its construction resembles the passive much more than the active voice. How exciting it is, that a deponent should have developed - quite of its own accord, in an environment previously devoid of such things!

I hope you have enjoyed my thoughts on this language of ours, and I hope too that one day, when leafing through the Oxford English Dictionary, I will come upon the following entry:

like /laik/ (is like, was like, has been like) -v.intr.deponent: (foll. by direct quotation) (forms other than present and simple past rare)
1 to say. 2 colloq. to express or impart, either vocally or otherwise.
Note: a majority of the Usage Panel requires that a direct quotation, rather than an action or onomatopoeic outburst, succeed this verb, except in the case of informal conversation.

--Note: Guys, this write-up comprises two parts, a valid grammatical concept and a silly linguistic postulate. It is for you to decide which is which...

Ichiro2k3 reminds me that to be all is another such "deponent." This is covered more extensively by the next write-up.

The nature of ‘like’ has been a topic of much recent linguistic study. Part of its appeal is that it’s a part of English that has been undergoing rapid and fairly drastic change, and to linguists, that’s damn exciting. Language change is what drives linguistic diversity, what makes Russian incomprehensible to the Portuguese and Beowulf unreadable to speakers of modern English.

The ‘like’ we’re talking about here is considered polysemous: it has more than one role in English. There’s the old-fashioned comparative like, which even your grandmother will use: You look just like your great aunt Mildred did when she was your age! Then there’s the newer focus marker like, which is used to draw attention in on a key aspect of a sentence: The dog was like, drooling all over me. Often the focuser like will imply hyperbole, in a way that can be seen as an extension of the older comparative meaning. For example, in the sentence Amy weighs like, twenty tons, the speaker does not mean that Amy actually weighs twenty tons, but, you know, it’s kind of like she does.

Finally, there is the like that is under investigation here: what linguists call quotative like. It’s used to introduce reported speech: So she’s like, “That totally sucked. ” It’s a similar phenomenon to quotative ‘go’: And then I go, “No way, dude, it’s a cheeseburger! ” The word all can be either added to or used in place of quotative like: I’m all like, “We need to go now.”; She’s all, “We can’t park here.”

Quotative like can be a nifty linguistic device. It’s more generic than reply or exclaim and more casual than even say. It can be used not just to introduce actual speech, but also gestures or your own internal monologue: The whole time we were talking, I was like, “Oh god, get me out of here!” It often implies shades of imitation, introducing reported speech that mimics the original speaker in tone and tempo, and in that sense is closely related to the comparative like. It’s typically an indicator of a lighthearted tone of speech, something youthful and flippant-sounding.

But is it a deponent? I’m doubtful. All of these functions evolved from the comparative like, which is not the same thing as the verb ‘to like,’ meaning ‘to be fond of.’ The comparative like is a preposition, and has no tenses. Instead, to form a complete sentence, it must be used with a verb: you can run like the wind or pose like a model. If it’s not a matter of doing anything, but just being similar to something, the construction be + like is used. There’s a crucial difference between this and the verb to like: compare I am like my father to I like my father, for instance. And in this same vein, I was like my father is not a passive version of I liked my father; it’s an entirely different thing, in which like serves as a meaningful particle connecting the verb to a noun phrase. Quotative like is the daughter of comparative like, what happens when its function and meaning expands, and as such is not a verb but a preposition. It combines the verb (‘be’) with its object complement (the quoted phrase).

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