Why do people, like, say, "like" so much?

By the time I was at secondary school in the early 2000s, “like” was just a natural part of speech. Transcribing the interviews I did for this piece, I say it constantly. When I do, I find it a friendly crutch, signalling to the person I’m talking to that we’re having a spontaneous and unrehearsed conversation, that I’m listening and thinking. But despite its long history and widespread use, for many it remains enraging.

Politicians, educators and business leaders have complained it makes speakers sound stupid. When Michael Gove was education secretary in 2014, he used an update to the national curriculum to require students to speak in “standard English”, even in informal settings, in all British schools. This reinforced the idea that there was only one right way to speak English. By 2019, one primary school head in Bradford, Christabel Shepherd, said she banned the word because, “When children are giving you an answer and they say, ‘Is it, like, when you’re, like…’ they haven’t actually made a sentence at all. They use the word all the time and we are trying to get rid of it.” Nick Gibb, then schools minister, praised the decision and said others should follow suit.

Scores of recruitment specialists and public-speaking coaches have publicly bemoaned the word’s rise and say those who use it prevent themselves from getting opportunities. One law firm in America sent a memo to just its female employees and told them: “Learn hard words,” and “Stop saying ‘like’.”

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