Like, not a new phenomenon

A general post about how the informationally redundant ‘like’ has (supposedly) blighted the tongues of the young should probably have come before this post, however it shall just have to wait. Today’s post is too exciting to be postponed.

I was reading Three Men in a Boat (1889) by Jerome K. Jerome and at the end of chapter 15 I came across a passage that caused me to squeal with joy and almost push the headphones off my boyfriend so he could share the excitement. The sentence that caused such emotion was this:

‘We had had a sail – a good all-round, exciting, interesting sail – and now we thought we would have a row, just for a change like.’


Written 1889!

While my good friend the Oxford English Dictionary tells me that this meaning of ‘like’ (used to ‘qualify a preceding statement’ and akin to ‘as it were’) is cited from 1778, my excitement is not dented and I still think it’s pretty cool to discover a non-contemporary use so out of the blue…like.

I think my boyfriend was fairly bemused by my excitement. He’s pretty condemning of the use of ‘like’ and I remember a comment on an early draft of one of my essays where next to my sentence “…like can be seen in the study by so-and-so…” he had written something along the lines of “Like: are you 12?”. My slight indignation aside (although I do agree ‘like’ was inappropriate in this context), his comment highlights the common association between the use of ‘like’ and adolescent language.

In this passage from Three Men in a Boat, the narrator is writing from the perspective of his younger self and it does make me wonder whether ‘like’ was associated with adolescent and teenage speech even in the 1880s?

While there are many, many things written in defence of the use of ‘like’ and its ilk, I have come across a few excellent articles, posts and videos on the topic and I might try to gather them together at some point. My review of Three Men in a Boat is here.


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