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”.