Maxi-rant 7: The ubiquitous ‘like’

No, not the filler ‘like’ in the likes of (the pun intended): “I, like, dig them motors, like”, with which one’s hearing is assailed rather more frequently than is good for one’s equilibrium, but ‘like’ which is forced to act as a conjunction. As it is, ‘like’ slogs hard as a verb, noun, adjective, adverb, preposition and suffix, and the last thing it needs is being dragooned into linking clauses, which is one of the jobs done by conjunctions. Although such mistreatment is extremely common, imagine the extent of my discombobulation when I spotted this title on the front page of The Economist.

Let’s party like it’s 1793

The Economist! This bastion of a vigorous turn of phrase, expressive simile and colourful metaphor scores relatively low on my GBI (grammatical-blunder index), so this use of ‘like’ came as a bit of a shock, and I immediately succumbed to my congenital editorial compulsion, scribbling down the correct version.

Let’s party as if it were 1793

Fair dos, it does look – and sound – a bit formal, but, if the front page of The Economist is not the right place for formality, I don’t know where is. (By the way, there is no full stop at the end because it’s a title, while my ‘were’ is the subjunctive.) Unlike ‘like’, ‘as if’ and ‘as though’ are bona-fide conjunctions, and it is these conjunctions that usually save the day in similar contexts.
In case you thought this quote was a momentary aberration on the part of this venerable magazine, I have another example, with my amendment given underneath.

The good times for Gazprom once seemed like they would never end. (The Economist)

It once seemed as if the good times would never end for Gazprom.
It once seemed as if, for Gazprom, the good times would never end.

If you don’t believe me, please feel free to refer to, among others, The Oxford English Dictionary, which has the following to say about this use of ‘like’: “Now generally condemned as vulgar or slovenly, though examples may be found in many recent writers of standing.” You bet they may! The New Shorter OED is more concise, declaring this usage as being “now non-standard”.
The so-called quality British press abuses ‘like’ on a regular basis; below are given four more examples – as always, with my corrections.

It’s not like I can claim I have somewhere to go. (The Sunday Times)

It’s not as if I can claim I have somewhere to go.

Black teachers often feel like their face doesn’t fit. (The Times Educational Supplement)

Black teachers often feel as though their face doesn’t fit.

Sound like you mean it. (The TES Magazine)

Sound as if you mean it.

With some children, it can be like you are communicating with aliens. (The Times Educational Supplement)

With some children, it can be as though you are (OR were) communicating with aliens.

Needless to say, an ordinary punter is even more likely to mistreat ‘like’ –not that YOU are any ordinary punter, of course!



I forgot that I had penned a little ditty about this.


Let me issue an injunction:

LIKE is never a conjunction;

We should use AS IF instead:

“It does look AS IF he’s dead”.



8 thoughts on “Maxi-rant 7: The ubiquitous ‘like’

    • Very many thanks, David. I’m still agonising over the different approaches to adopt. While I’m committed to my silly ‘Waverley’ narrative, which I will keep going, it would appear that some readers prefer something more pithy – if a bit less jocular – so I will try to offer both.


  1. It is quite likely the Economist was echoing popular culture with some of those titles. Example of ‘let’s party…’ from the Prince song. I see a lot if tongue in cheekiness in the Economist. Do you think it is possible they were quite aware of the usage being referential if incorrect? FWIW it is this inclination of the Economist to break the fourth wall with some regularity (as well as great reporting, clear editing and arch commentary that makes them, for me, a refreshing read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • First of all, thank you very much for taking the trouble to comment on my post. It is, of course, possible that the title in question was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, although I have my doubts, which seem to be confirmed by other examples of ‘like’ used as a conjunction which I have found in The Economist. Take this quote:

      “(…) And he [Bill Clinton] feels like he was painted as a racist during the primary process,” writes Howard Wolfson, Mrs Clinton’s former communications director, on the New Republic website.

      I don’t detect any ‘tongue-in-cheekiness’ there, although this wasn’t actually written by the Economist folk themselves. But if they had been aware of the lapse, they could have simply deployed sic. What this also suggests is that this usage is alive and kicking on both sides of the pond. That said, I agree with your assessment of the magazine, which is a great read, its copy-editors’ (the apostrophe intended) occasionally falling asleep at the wheel notwithstanding!


      • Given your evidence, it is quite possible the Economist is on its way down that slippery slope towards integrating common usage. At some point, the goal posts will change on this as they have on many other incorrect but accepted forms. I wonder about the apostrophe — I understood your intent (without needing the parenthetical) but those little flying commas give so many people fit’s (misuse intended for comic effect) that I wonder what the future will hold for that handy but widely misunderstood punctuation.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for another thoughtful comment, which I have read with interest. You are absolutely right that common usage is the ultimate arbiter of acceptability, but I think that ‘as if’ and ‘as though’ are sufficiently well entrenched to withstand the assault launched by ‘like’ – at least in the foreseeable future. Naturally, usage changes with time, and, in a few decades, I might sound like a dinosaur (if dinosaurs rant, that is). You are also spot on about my use of the apostrophe after ‘copy-editors’: here, I definitely reveal my pedantry! Although I was fully aware that some might find it confusing, I simply couldn’t NOT use it – isn’t that awful? But I swear I AM working on my pedantry – give me time. And I love your ‘fit’s’! (AND I don’t share the unjustified prejudice against beginning sentences with correlative conjunctions; that’s a start, I suppose.) I hope you will keep commenting; interactions such as these make my blogging enterprise worthwhile.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s