From chronicle.com on “Diss ‘Like’,” by Ted Gup (The Chronicle Review, January 13):
I laud Gup for his focused assault on the fungus-y crud of language that he examines here. I had myself noticed, but never formulated as keenly as Gup does, the ironic unlikeness of like-linked discourse. I had thought of it as comparable to the annoying but innocuous time-filler "um," but it's clearly not. And it seems to me that "like" is perhaps even more venal than "you know," because the latter at least carries the faint strains of rhetorical consciousness and energy—as if to say, "I want you to know this, to know what I am saying, and I am encouraging your shared understanding here." "Like," on the other hand, as Gup demonstrates, is nothing more than a cheap, desperate, logically void, "wishing makes it true" establishment of connection and relationship. While it encourages assent, and the unifying acknowledgment of a "like community," it is patently false.
Like, you go, "Professor Gup, like, doesn't get it!" So, like, that's cool. You go, "'Like' is a cool word, too, you know!" I say, "That's neat, but like, dude (or dudette), man, like, you're missing the point! Jeesh!" Props to Gup, like, cause he, like, comes right out and says that overusing slang phrases as connective tissue that substitutes for actual, precise words with real meaning is, like, so much a pain. He's like, Why can't people use a more complete, more descriptive vocabulary, because we are, like, adults, uhhhhh, well, most of us, uhhhh, and that's cool. Like, each to their own, man.
But not cool to, like, jump down the dude's throat, like some WWF superbad dude, cause like, that's bogus. You go, "I like 'like' cause, like, it serves a serious linguistic function. See, it's even written up in the Duke University Press, my man!" That's cool, my brother, but, like, ultimately irrelevant. Excessive verging on constant use of slang connectives, language gap-fillers, uhhhhhhhh, like, open-variable substitutes for meaning is horribly and incredibly obnoxious and indicative not just of a limited vocabulary but a limited mind.
Would the author approve if his students held up a sign every time he said a particular word? Plenty of my colleagues say "um," "so," "well," "if you will," etc. way too often. I suspect that students could find some filler Mr. Gup uses and torment him with a sign. I find his dislike of "like" to be both ageist and petty.
As for the ubiquity of "like," I'm tempted to say, "'Twas ever thus." Mind you, my "ever" goes back to only about 1968, when James Simon Kunen wrote in The Strawberry Statement: "We youths say 'like' all the time because we mistrust reality. It takes a certain commitment to say something is. Inserting 'like' gives you a bit more running room." True, youths in 1968 did not say "like" as much as those now. But I remember being berated for my "likes" and other hallmarks of inarticulateness that I have since chalked up to youth.