Monday, June 09, 2008
He was all Persian or something
Around what year did kids start using the word like as an all purpose filler and modifier? These things tend to be very generational, although like seems to span quite a few of them. I was struck by this one day when I was conversing with two sixty-something Norwegians who have been living here since the 1960s - they both say it all the time which is normally unusual for people their age.
Personally I like like and still use it all the time, even though I know it's improper and a bad habit. Like is like crack to me. It delivers certain connotations that are not easy to express or would otherwise seem awkward when delivered verbally, especially for the young or mildly retarded like me.
As an example, when I was a kid I usually lived in places that were about 99% white. The most common minority you would run across would be the occasional Asian kid in school.
Back in the early 70s no one said "Asian." Maybe sometimes people would say "Oriental" to describe a person, which we know today is incorrect; but the usual way to refer to an Asian kid in school (if you didn't know him or her) was simply to say "I don't know, he's like Chinese or something."
Like Chinese or something. See how easily that flows? Now if someone had corrected us and said "you will refer to this child as the Asian kid" I'm sure we would have listened. But no one took the time.
Like is also a convenient mechanism for describing a person's attitude or demeanor. Instead of saying "mother appeared to be in a bad mood and may possibly have been intoxicated" you can just say "she was like screaming at Dad and getting cigarette ash marks all over the wall."
Like often takes the additional modifier just when used in such situations. "I went to my boss's office to hand in my expense reports and he was just like 'these are over a month late. I can't approve these.' I told him I'd been busy with the Viacom deal and he was just like 'get the fuck out of my office.'"
Isn't that much more descriptive than saying "My boss was upset that my expense reports were over a month late. When I tried to explain that I had been preoccupied with the Viacom deal he indicated it was not a convenient time to talk"?
At some point about ten years ago the Generation Y kids starting replacing like with all. It took me a while to catch on to what was happening, and caused more than few confusing moments for me.
I had struck up a friendship with a receptionist named Tina in my office in L.A. and we started hanging out a lot. She was a bit of a wild child, and very pretty, therefore making her great to bring to gay bars with me because she would attract a lot of guys. The first time we went to Rage for happy hour we walked in and this guy immediately turned to her and said "wait boys, hold on, let her pass, let her through. This girl is REAL!" Then he and his friends started buying her drinks while ignoring me like the plague. It was great.
One time I pulled into a gas station so that she could run in to buy cigarettes. When she came back to the car she said "the guy behind the counter totally hit on me. He asked for my phone number."
"Oh," I said. "Was he cute? What did he look like?'
"I don't know," she replied. "He was all Persian or something."
He was all Persian or something. It sounded like he had a disease or a physical deformity. She could have said "he was all pock marked or something" and it would have had the same effect.
"You don't like Middle Eastern men?"
"No, I didn't say that. He was actually kind of cute. I gave him my number."
"Then why did you say 'he was all Persian or something?' It sounded like you were grossed out by it."
"No, he just had dark skin and dark hair, like he's from Iran or someplace like that."
Then I figured it out. What she really meant to say was "He was like Persian or something." That would have made total sense to me. All was the new like.
Ah, to get old.
I really should have been a linguistics major. Because this shit fascinates me. Too bad it was not offered at the college I attended.