Two examples from Dictionary.com for like:

(1) I did it like wrong. [Adverb. Nonstandard. a) as it were; in a way; somehow]
(2) Like, why didn't you write to me? [Interjection. Informal. (...to preface a sentence, to fill a pause, to express uncertainty, or to intensify or neutralize a following adjective)]

(1a) I did it, like, wrong.
(2a) Hey, why didn't you write to me?

Collins possibly shows (1) and (2) as instances of the same thing, but labelled differently depending on AmE/BrE. The AmHDotEL shows be like as an idiom for to say/utter, and has an intriguing usage note saying : "If a woman says "I'm like, 'Get lost buddy!'" she may or may not have used those actual words to tell the offending man off. In fact, she may not have said anything to him[...]".

  • Could you have (1a) as an instance of (2) i.e. the person hesitates and pauses but just means plain wrong and not wrong somehow?
  • In what way is (1) Nonstandard as opposed to informal; could you say something like (1) at work for instance? Does that mean used by younger people?
  • In (2), what other word or phrase would mean the same thing or play the same role as like here? Is this about emphasis, hesitation, are you saying "in a roundabout way", is that to "be like", or are you asking the person to themselves summarize why they did or didn't do something; or is it really just like (2a)?

Important things first! None of these are appropriate for use at work!

As for use by younger people -- sort of, they came to prominence in 'hippie' culture of 1960's among younger people -- but of course some of us are not 'younger' any more.

If (1) is written down, rather than spoken, I would always expect it to be as in (1a), placed between commas. I would only expect to see it as dialog; i.e., representing the spoken words of a 1960's or 70's hippie or someone similar.

In my experience, (Canada, Toronto, 1970's) the function is to apply some extra emphasis to the following word or phrase. It acts as a pause for dramatic effect. So, in (1a) it implies that the speaker did something so obviously wrong that he must have been really drugged or drunk (for example) or just very foolish. But it also tends to get over-used such that it serves no more than the function of 'um,' or 'uh,' creating an artificial pause while the speaker thinks of what they mean to say next.

In (2) I believe it does serve the same function as 'Hey' in (2a) but I would find the shade of meaning slightly different

Hey, why didn't you write me? -- sounds more accusing

Like, why didn't you write me? -- sounds as if you probably forgot

Umm, why didn't you write me? -- sounds like there might be some sneaky hidden agenda

The other usage mentioned 'I'm like, "get lost buddy"' in my recollection appeared later .. or perhaps I encountered it only upon moving to California in late 1980's and it did generally mean 'I was thinking/feeling (strongly)...'

Also not for use 'at work'.

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  • Thank you, that was very insightful! You said "Like, why didn't you write me? -- sounds as if you probably forgot." Is that a shade of meaning or a shade of function? If it were "like, did you forget to write to me", what underlying probability could you further read in? Isn't that getting close to "you forgot to write, right?" ? – user16335 Feb 29 '16 at 20:48
  • I wouldn't read too much into it . Upon reflection and with your question in mind, I think it probably depends more upon subculture -- region, decade, social environment -- which interjection a person might use in this context. – r a t Mar 1 '16 at 16:42
  • 'hey,dude' -- maybe a 1980's surfer ; 'like,wow,man' -- maybe a 1960's hippie – r a t Mar 1 '16 at 16:43

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