A few weeks ago I read Going Nucular: Language, Politics, and Culture in Controversial Times by Geoffrey Nunberg (NYTimes, NPR). While the book was just a compilation of various columns and commentaries by him, one caught my eye. As you know, the title of my blog “It’s, like, Ben’s Blog” plays on the teenager’s favorite word: like. Here are some excerpts from Nunberg on this phenomena:
“Whatever critics and teachers may think, like is more than just an unconscious tic or a filler that people stick in while they’re vamping for time. It’s a word with a point of view, and speakers can shut it down when that isn’t what they want to convey..Critics were making like the symptom of an alarming decline in communication skills among the nation’s young people. It’s true that the teenagers who picked up on like seemed to use it indiscriminately. But there was a method in it – one way or another, like lays a certain distance between speakers and their words. Sometimes it can soften a request, as in “Could I, like, borrow your sweater?” Sometimes it communicates disaffection: “Whaddawe suppose to, like, read this?” Or you can use it to nod ironically at the banality of your words, as in “Do you suppose we could, like, talk about it?” That’s one use of the word that just about everybody has picked up on. “
If you’re interested in linguistic things like this you’ll find this book a fun read.