I am not a native English speaker myself but I am very annoyed by the fact that a lot of people these days, native and also non-native English speakers, are continuously using the expression "it's like" or just "like" in oral speech as a sort of link between ideas, phrases or just words. Transcribing a recording I get these kinds of formulas:

"And then I kind of like communicated this to him."

"I like went up to like really submitting my paper."

"And I hated it so I was like “no way I am doing that!""

"I have to kind of like succeed by myself, which is very hard."

"When you do not know someone that is like very experienced..."

"What's the purpose? Like, damaging the image of his colleagues..."

Is this a common feature of contemporary English?

What is the origin of this expression? How recent is this type of use?

Is it equally common in all dialects of English?

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    Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/24633/…
    – Helix Quar
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 10:47
  • @helix - yes. thank you for pointing that. i was not aware of that stackexchange site, i should have asked there - and then it would have been a duplicate - i'll keep an eye on both and maybe close this one
    – cipricus
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 13:13
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    – relaxing
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 13:58
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    I don't think uninformed peeving is on-topic here, edit notwithstanding.
    – user230
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 21:44
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    @snailplane Nor do I - if I did I would point out, snarkily, the colloquial superfluities and imprecisions in OP's own expression - but I think there is a genuine question here, apart from the peevishness. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 14:32

3 Answers 3


You are mistaken in supposing this to be a recent innovation: to the best of my recollection it arose in the late 1950s. At that time it was supposed to be characteristic of the ‘beat’ community, but it entered youthspeak almost immediately and has been current among the young ever since, at least in the United States (I cannot speak to other dialects). As teenagers grow older and are called upon to address more diverse audiences more formally, they generally learn alternative expressions (as it were, so to speak, I think, in my opinion) culled from severer registers; but like never entirely disappears from speech with close friends.

It has a useful and indeed essential function in speech as a discourse marker. When it first arose it was employed primarily as an anticipatory emphatic, to signal that what follows will be of particular importance—Maynard G. Krebs’ favorite expression was “Like, wow!”—but by the end of the 60s it had acquired additional anticipatory uses: notably 1) as a signal that a subsequent pause will not mark the end of an utterance but further processing and 2) as a lexical ‘quotation mark’.

There is thus nothing to deprecate in the usage except snobbish preference for more prestigious markers. If the usage annoys you, I suggest you seek a more pretentious class of interlocutors.

  • I asked this here because I imagine this site is not dedicated mainly to American English. I am personally very interested in the way English is spoken by the non-native speakers, that is by the foreign speakers, or the ones that use English as their secondary or third language (my case) and which tend to become an important part of English speakers living today. I find nothing pretentious or snobbish about trying to understand and speak "good English" - and as a foreigner I find myself less relaxed than a native speaker on the contact with what I see as bad English.
    – cipricus
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 8:57
  • What has surprised me is that the expression I am talking about here is very much used my many European non-native speakers. Maybe that is a cheap method for them of sounding like native (American) speakers. But I find that using a familiar expression in this way has a very confounding result. Imagine a guy talking in English with a French accent but spicing all that mush with tons of "like"...
    – cipricus
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 9:06
  • and one more comment: my main class of interlocutors are dead writers somewhat older than the beat generation and it is very hard to fit in :) -- thank you for your clear answer
    – cipricus
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 9:14
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    @cipricus: Well, people learn to talk by listening, just as they learn to write by listening; and chances are that many of those you speak English with have learned their conversational English in conversation with US college students, and by watching US sitcoms and movies with contemporary dialogue. My French is not good enough to say what the French equivalent of "like" is, but I have no doubt that there's an equivalent; there certainly is in German, the dochs and nochs and jas and ebens. Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 11:30
  • You are right, of course. (I knew nothing on this subject before asking here, about the fact that the use is not recent and it is in fact acceptable - although I may be right saying that its tremendous success is recent, and related to the causes you mentioned.) It is interesting what you say about French, and that terms with similar position must be present in many languages, but also might be worth noticing that not only there is a French equivalent (it is genre) but its popularity might be related to the popularity of like in the English spoken by young French people.
    – cipricus
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 12:54

Interesting. My second language is English and third German. Although because of mostly communicating in German , English has been pushed in background a little, and so deteriorated. I also felt this expression is sometimes used a bit too much . It does explain using it as function in speech. But , when used not between phrases , but literally 3, ,4 times in a sentence, sometimes after every word one utters it does sound very ridiculous, even if it IS the very way of language. I have heard for example ... I was like , you know like and then like, ya. Sometimes when one is looking for a suitable word or expression you just keep seeing these like coming like, like , like. I counted once while on a local bus 7 time like in once sentence in a matter of seconds. Sorry but it was not so nice on ears.

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    It’s also interesting how people from other cultures perceive something in a language. While on the one hand native speakers of any language are the „owners“ of the language , and they decide what is right or wrong , even if it does make sense to other language speakers. But English being mostly means of communication between different language speakers or cultures , this kind of experiences , impressions ( for different language functions or expressions) should be understandable.
    – Amy
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 12:57
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    It may be that foreign English speakers who tend to look up on English language and want to speak good English feel disappointed in such cases.
    – cipricus
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 13:46
  • Hello Amy. This seems to be a discussion of the topic and not an answer to the question. We welcome detailed but focussed answers to questions. Please take the tour to learn more. You can edit your own post to make sure that you clearly answer the questions posed by the OP. Don't feel that you need to comment on other answers, stay focused on the question and your answer to it.
    – James K
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 21:52

The starting point is that “like” serves the same purpose is “ummm” — people say it while they are thinking. In that sense, it is just a change in language. However I, too, find it very annoying, as follows. [Also distressing, as I see my native language being actively destroyed.]

One issue is that people (i.e. native English speakers) are getting worse and worse at speaking English. It is so bad that the professional [using the term lightly] news-readers (and of course the professional writers behind them) are doing things like leaving out “is”, and “the”, and using “head” for “go” and “provide” for “give”, and generally destroying their own language. [Don’t get me started!] Related to this… young people are using “I’m like” to mean, “I thought” and “I said” and “I explained” and “I was surprised, and said”… the list is endless.

The other issue I have is that young people seem to use “like” not only as a substitute for “ummm”, and as above, but also the way a person would use swear words, who was extremely angry. “I’m like, you’re like acting badly, like, like, with like how you dis me, like, and like how you treat me like, like a like someone inferior or, like… something…”.

There is nothing good about this. You should indeed — as StoneyB on hiatus puts it — “seek a more pretentious class of interlocutors”.

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