Perhaps the use of like, however, is, like, actually polite. A recent New York Times article suggests that our seemingly sloppy generation is actually moving towards a more sophisticated use of language. “Like” can be used as a tool. When you frame something you are about to say with a “like” it creates a buffer between your opinion and those you are addressing. It allows you to wallow in a middle ground where you can imply, “I know this is not something you completely agree with, so I’m going to use 'like' to soften the blow.”
The use of “like” may also be a manifestation of a subconscious reluctance to be politically incorrect or contentious. It shields us from what we are actually saying, and defers responsibility to uncertainty. These trends suggest a newfound humility and modesty in the way we speak. It allows us to think: I may be right, I may be wrong, and I’m open to hear another opinion.
It could also be the complete opposite. “Like” can serve as a linguistic crutch, cushioning us from the need to form strong, thoughtful opinions. When you have a way to casually qualify the force of your statement, you never have to fully confront your claims. Used in this way, “like” is far from sophisticated speech—rather, it seems juvenile, and can affect inter-generational interactions. Older generations, for example, often attribute the pollution of language to our generation. They like to label us “millennials” and often associate inevitable linguistic changes to the generation as a whole. “Like” in this context evokes vapid, surfer, Jersey Shore speech. The effects are particularly detrimental in professional settings, where “like” reflects lack of preparation and speaking skills. Perhaps “like” is more a step backwards than one towards sophistication.
When people use ‘like’, it is most likely a filler word. Indeed, it does serve plenty of other implications, but at its core it provides time to sort through thoughts. Yet as a filler word, “like” differs from others such as “um” because of its relational connotation. Perhaps the influence of increased connectedness does in fact affect our subconscious desire to relate and bridge differences through our language. Or perhaps ‘like’ is simply an example of how we adopt cultural shifts in language without questioning them.
The use of ‘like’ is a product of how language is constantly evolving. Amid this change, we should pause to think about how we use our words, and how they reflect what we are actually saying. Language is our first impression, last impression and everything in between. If we do not think about language, and what it does, we risk losing the breadth of its power, eloquence, and expression. You know, like, what do you think?