Occurrence of the word “Like

Objective: Collect 6 naturally occurring sentences involving the word like.

All five of the following sentences were heard during the last few minutes of our Anthropology 100 discussion section. There were 24 students and one teacher’s assistant present at the time. The group is nearly half male and half female, and is composed of undergrad students, meaning that the groups’ oldest would be 23.

“…they had a cigarette ashtray, like1, on the treadmills.” -Female
“…and I have a friend of mine who like2 grew up in like British Columbia.” -Female
“His friends all treat us like3 we’ve known them like4 forever.” -Male
“One day the post office will be on strike, and like5, the next day, the airlines.” -Female
“I was going to say, like6, when I moved here…” -Female

The remaining utterance was overheard during a conversation between three females waiting to get into a lecture hall in the Social Science building.

Female 1: “really, what did you say?”
Female 2: “I was just like7; no, Lauren, I bought lunch yesterday.”
Female 3 remained silent.

All of the uses of the word “like” in the above sentences with the exception of number three (3) are nonstandard uses. When used in idiom form as six of seven examples are, “like” takes on the job of combining ideas or thoughts within the sentence. Most nonstandard uses have to do with the speaker describing something they were thinking or speaking. The word’s implied meanings have multiplied to outnumber the standard dictionary definition which says like indicates inclination or preference, and resemblance. The majority of contextual uses in modern casual English, however, are nonstandard. Nonstandard meanings include becoming a conjunction, joining parts of the subject or action, and as an expression on its own. This expression has begun to take on the position of a pause or break in a sentence, much as “uh” or “um” have. When giving a speech and searching for the words to the next sentence, chances are you will use “uh” “um” or “like”. Older people are much less likely to do this than the under 25 age group is. With teenagers and younger, it seems that “like” is every other word in their sentences. With so many potential meanings, each instance of usage must be evaluated individually to determine the intent of the word in the context it was used.

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