Student Claims 'Like' Is Linguistic Freedom

Using the word "like," has, well, like a purpose.

At least, that's what James Frederick, a senior at Columbia University, believes.

In an Op-ed page piece in Sunday's New York Times, Frederick said that, contrary to the beliefs of some linguistics experts, the world "like" is an effective rhetorical device that "demonstrates the speaker's heightened sensibility."

"Our elders would have us believe that we...are doomed to fail, not in the least by our supposed grammatical ineptness," wrote Frederick.

"Paramount to our problems, they claim, is a tendency to pepper our dialogue with the word 'like' as if it were a verbal tic, demonstrating our abysmal vocabularies and utter lack of neurological activity."


In the article, Frederick argued that "like" is particularly effective for dulling harsh critcism. One can say, for example, "May dad is, like, an anal retentive psycho." Such a phrase means that the person's father is not exactly an anal-retentive psycho, but he is like an anal-retentive psycho. Frederick wrote.

Experts in linguistics were, like, unimpressed by Frederick's argument.

Associate Professor of Linguistics Mark R. Hale said that using the word "like" is a social statement.

"I'm sure that [the use of 'like'] is functional," Hale said. "The choice to use it is to adopt a social badge. It's part of saying I'm young and I feel myself allied with my social group."

Although Hale says that people do not consciously choose to start saying the word, there is a subconscious decision because "We want to sound like cool people."

Jill L. Carrier, associate professor of linguistics and head tutor in the department, likened the use of "like" to the grammatical deployment of adverbs.

"It is an innovation that characterizes a generation," said Carrier. "It is natural that languages change."

Most students interviewed yesterday said they have made the word part of their vocabulary, although not all were, like, happy about it.

Charles R.S. Gay '94 said he wants to remove "like" from his vocabulary.

"I'm trying to quit," said Gay. "It's a bad habit."

Sheila C. Allen '93 said he she left the usage of the word behind in high school.

"It's more of a high school than a grown-up thing," Allen said