People and words

What’s not to like

The girl in the queue was excited. You couldn’t help but overhear what she said to her friend: “I went like … But he wouldn’t come.”

I like the word like. And I like the way people use it.

For example, you can use it as a verb to say you enjoy a cup of coffee, when saying you love it would be too strong. Or you can say you’d like tea, meaning that you’ll have tea rather than coffee, but you don’t want to sound commandeering.

A screaming banshee

Like is also a preposition, noun or adjective, when it means as though, as if, as it were, so to speak or the same as. For example, “she screamed like a banshee”, which means her voice was similar to that of an Irish house spirit wailing about an impending disaster.

The use of like as an adverb in spoken language is fascinating.

You can use it to show people that you’re uncertain about something you’ve just said: “There’s a funny smell – sort of dusty like.”

Or “this is like the only way to do it.” In which case, you know there’s no other way, but you want to soften the blow for the listener.

“He’s like”

When you’re a bit unsure about quoting somebody, you could say something like this: “So he comes in and he’s like ‘Where’s everybody?’ Well, how would I know?”

Like can be a meaningless filler or tag. For example when you say “I was like going out” or “I was going out like”.

Fillers and tags

The thing is, such fillers or tags sometimes have meaning. For example, in parts of the UK people use them more than in other parts, like on the east coast of Scotland. Irvine Welsh’s Rent-boy in Trainspotting says: “Well, I’ll come back with you if you like, but like, I’m not promising anything, you know.”

So you can use words such as like to express a sense of belonging or emphasise an identity.

Finally, apparently meaningless fillers and tags are used when people get emotional, like the girl in the queue. She was very angry, at her boyfriend or another male, and with saying “like” she expressed that feeling.