Philip Jones and John Nixon - McGill ROTC 1958
Ben Oostdam story # 552:
like, whatever, gapfiller
question Mark
you mean placeholder?


(by John K. Nixon)
The other evening I was seated near the front of the bus
on my way home from work. Next to me sat a young couple
in earnest conversation. They appeared to be in their
late teens, perhaps first year university students.
With insufficient light to read my newspaper I confess
that I found myself eavesdropping on their conversation.

Now I am blessed with poor hearing, so I was not able to
follow the conversation closely, but could get the general
drift. One thing that helped was the frequent insertion
of the word “like” by both participants.
This provided a brief pause in the fast-paced dialogue
and allowed my brain to digest the few words that had
preceded it. After about ten minutes of eavesdropping
I began to count the frequency with which this four-letter
word was used. At one point the young man next to me
recorded five “likes” in one sentence!

Unable to restrain my curiosity any longer, and taking
advantage of a rare pause in the conversation,
I nudged the fellow gently and interjected: 
I apologize for interrupting, but I could not help
listening in. I am puzzled by your frequent use of the
word “Like”. Perhaps you could explain the meaning of
the word as used in your conversation.”

He turned to me with a friendly smile, then laughed
and said: “You are just like my mother!
She is always criticizing me for using the word,
which she says interrupts the flow of conversation!” 

He then went on to explain that the word was commonly
used as a “gap filler”, to give the speaker a second
or so to collect his or her thoughts before proceeding
further. Apparently, in conversations between the
younger generation these days, it is considered bad form
to stop the stream of verbiage while you gather your
thoughts before launching into the next phrase or sentence.
The idea is to keep the conversation going as long as
possible without any pause or other disruption.
Just why the word “Like” has evolved into the Gap Filler
of choice, he was unable to say.

Now I have thought about that since our brief conversation.
Certainly in my youth no-one spoke like that, and I don’t
recall either of my children sprinkling their conversation
with numerous “likes”. It seems that this phenomenon has
crept insidiously into the English language to the point
where I suspect that the most frequent word uttered by 
English-speakers thirty years old or below is one that
normally denotes a similarity to, or an affinity for,
something. Perhaps it is a result of the time pressures 
that we all feel these days in our fast-paced modern
life style. If we pause for more than two or three seconds
in our narrative stream, we run the risk that someone else
will cut in and break our monopoly and control over the
direction of the discourse. Interestingly, this particular
word does not intrude into written English.

I first became aware of this development perhaps ten years
ago, and assumed that it was a passing fad among teenagers;
something that they would grow out of when they reached
adulthood. However I am beginning to rethink my earlier

Recently I overheard a fragment of conversation between
two university graduates. One was apparently describing
a discussion he had recently had with two other friends
about some films that they had seen.
His articulate little monologue went something like this:

“He goes: “Have you seen ‘The Love-struck Werewolf’?”
(or some such title). She goes: “Yeah. Like Awesome!
But not as good as ‘Beheading of the Lambs’ ".
I go: “Yeah, that was, like, real cool!” ”.

Based on this conversation, and others like it, and
having heard this type of speech pattern in radio interviews
and talk shows, I have come to realize that the virus has
spread far beyond high school and is infecting a whole
generation of people now well into their thirties, and beyond.

In my youth, as I recall, a good idea would be described
as “hot”. In today’s cultural climate that same idea would
be characterized as “cool”, which seems to run counter to
the direction of global climatic trends!
Conversations are frequently laced with “sort of” and “kinda”,
which also appear to act as gap fillers.
Then there is the peculiar tendency to use the expression
“could care less”, when really what was meant was 
"couldn’t care less”!

Now I am aware that language changes over time.
In my English high school, in addition to a strange vocabulary
of localized vernacular peculiar to that school, adjectives
such as “Super” and “Wizard” tended to pepper schoolboy
conversation. Today in Britain I understand that those
expressions are long since out of vogue and have been
supplanted by words such as “Brilliant!” 

Just think of Shakespearean English and how it has morphed
over some four hundred years into the popular English
that we speak today! 

On second thoughts, forget what I just said.
It only makes me more depressed

To get back to my likeable seatmate on the bus;
as he and his girl friend rose from their seats to get off
at their stop, I leaned forward and gently tugged his sleeve.
“Excuse me”, I ventured. “I hope that I did not offend you”.

He turned to me, smiled graciously, and replied with studied
eloquence, and a casual shrug of his shoulders: 


Then, responding no doubt to my puzzled reaction,
he hastened to add: 

“No, I’m not offended at all!” 

I felt, like, relieved to hear that!

BLO fecit 20091206 - stories

with thanks to John and, like . . .
in complete agreement
with his insights!