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“Like” as Slang

By Judy Vorfeld

Let’s tackle the some­times loved, some­times hated word, “like.”

Like, have you won­dered if there’s a tech­ni­cal term for, like, stick­ing the word “like” like, through­out a sen­tence, like, like this?

Here’s the grip­ping answer: it’s an inter­jec­tional word. Interjectional speech is often called “slang.”

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, says, under adverbs:*

b — used inter­jec­tion­ally in infor­mal speech often to empha­size a word or phrase (as in “He was, like, gor­geous”) or for an apolo­getic, vague, or unassertive effect (as in “I need to, like, bor­row some money”)

2 : an ejac­u­la­tory utter­ance usu­ally lack­ing gram­mat­i­cal con­nec­tion: as a : a word or phrase used in excla­ma­tion (as Heavens! Dear me!) b : a cry or inar­tic­u­late utter­ance (as Alas! ouch! phooey! ugh!) express­ing an emotion

3 : some­thing that is inter­jected or that interrupts

Professor Charles Darling says, “They some­times stand by them­selves, but they are often con­tained within larger struc­tures.

  • Wow! I won the lottery!

  • Oh, I don’t know about that.

  • I don’t know what the heck you’re talk­ing about.

  • No, you shouldn’t have done that.

And now you, like, know. Think of it as a trendy ver­bal interruptor.

Here’s a long, inter­est­ing (if you have lots of time) dis­cus­sion on “Like.”

*By per­mis­sion. From Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary at www.m-w.com by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.


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