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Exploring the evolution of “like” (confession time: I like, like “like”)

(EDITORIAL) The evolution of LIKE: so many ways to use one little word that was once they crowning glory of valley girls across America.

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like

Etymology 101

The evolution of like: so many ways to use one little word. Let’s get a couple things nailed down before we talk about how we use “like” in speech. Like comes from an Old English word “gelic” meaning “with the body,” as in the original definition of like: similar to. But humans abbreviated the word, as humans are totes wont to do, and it became “lic“, which eventually became like.

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Beyond its initial definitions, like has spawned many strange etymological tentacles in our modern spoken language. Like is the linguistic mother of the suffix “-ly”. As in “quick-ly”, which makes sense if you picture your Texas relatives saying (not incorrectly!) “quick -like” to describe something fast. This, too, eventually became shortened.

It’s also the rakish parent of “likewise,” meaning similar in manner. This lead to the suffix “—wise”, which gives us such gems as clockwise and stepwise without having to include the like.

“Grandma, to get to Furrs you do down 6th to Quaker avenue, turn clock-like-wise and you’ll be there as quick-like as a jackrabbit.”

But as interesting as all that might be (I’m not a nerd, you’re a nerd), it doesn’t explain the overuse of it by modern day youths with their technology and cyberspeak. For that meaning, we have to follow a different thread.

like

Like, a history

One that starts with the 50s with beatniks, who said “like, wow” and brought this monosyllabic utterance into the national consciousness. In novels too, the “like” suffix started being used more liberally. Instead of just “slow-like” we got sentences like, “That’s the right clue and may do me some good. Something very big. Truth, like.” (Sieze the Day, 1965).

Now, it’s become something else. A mark of hesitation, a transition, or if you like fancy and specific turns of phrase: “Like has morphed into a modal marker of the human mind at work in conversation.” — John McWhorter in The Atlantic

He further makes the point that unlike “um” or “uh”, “like” is not a marker of unconfident speech. Not at all. People use like to manage expectations, reinforce ideas, soften blows, or attribute speech in conversations. Confused yet? Here’s a few examples.

Counter-expectation and reinforcement

If I was talking to a friend I might say something along the lines of:

“Hey, so I went out with that guy and we went to a bar and everyone there was like, old. Like, grandparents old. There were like, veterans and little old ladies with knitting needles, and I was like, what is happening right now? But it was fun.”

I am using “like” in this sentence to say, “You might think by old I mean 30 but NO, in fact I mean LIKE old, I mean LIKE grandparents, and LIKE get-out-your-knitting-needles.”

The “like” is acknowledging an imagined objection. I’m saying my listeners part for them. I’m parsing out the conversation we might have — “Everyone there was old – So they are 30? – No, they were LIKE, OLD” — without having to stop in the middle of my anecdote.

Another example might be:

“So I’m checking out at the HEB and it’s, like, him. The guy who who stole my uncle’s inheritance and used it to start a koala sanctuary on the East Side.”

I’m using this “like” to say, essentially, “you’re not going to believe it was him, but it was totally him.”

Water it down

When like is used as a hesitation, as described above, it’s not the same as an “uh” or an “um“. In fact, it’s often used rather specifically to soften something you’re about to say to someone they might take objection to.

Saying, “Those brass knuckles are, like, the only ones that match your ball gown” is not at all the same thing as saying, “Those brass knuckles are, uh, the only ones that match your ball gown.” I am offering a little verbal apology to my intensely-accessoried friend. It’s easier to tell someone a road is “Like the only way to get there” than to tell them a road is “The only way to get there.”

like

As a quotation

Like can also serve as a means of attributing speech without directly quoting someone. An example of this would be, “So then he was like, ‘If you beat me at Scrabble again we are breaking up.’

Here I am using “like” as verbal quotation marks to indicate what my future ex-boyfriend has said in a previous conversation. And this is one usage no one should get mad about.

It’s not cultural or vague or open to interpretation. It’s a correct and legitimate way to quote someone while speaking. But people do not often parse out each of these nuanced likes. They either understand, or they pass judgment across the board.

It’s no longer a “valley girl” tick

Like is no longer a verbal tick of the young. The beatniks and mainstreamers who started using it in the fifties are “like, old” or at least middle-aged now, and are still likely to use like in these ways. But it’s also being carried on as a subtle but important speech pattern in younger generations.

Like it or not, like is like, here to stay.

“Like” evolution print courtesy of Indiegogo.

#Ilikelikelike

Felix is a writer, online-dating consultant, professor, and BBQ enthusiast. She lives in Austin with two warrior-princess-ninja-superheros and some other wild animals. You can read more of her musings, emo poetry, and weird fiction on her website.

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Opinion Editorials

AT&T hit with age discrimination lawsuit over using the word “tenured”

(EDITORIAL) 78% of workers are victims of age discrimination. As awareness arises, lawsuits show what may constitute discrimination, including verbiage.

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Older man at cafe representing age discrimination

According to the AARP, 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. As awareness of ageism increases, lawsuits that allege age bias can help employers understand what constitutes discrimination. A recent case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Smith v. AT&T Mobility Services, L.L.C., No. 21-20366 (5th Cir. May 17, 2022), should give employers pause about using other words that could potentially be a euphemism for “older worker.”

What the lawsuit was about

Smith, a customer service representative at AT&T, alleged that he was denied a promotion because of his age. His manager told him that she was not going to hire any tenured employees. The manager wanted innovative employees in the management positions. Smith took this to mean that he was being denied the promotion because of his age. He sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Texas law.

The district court found that Smith failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to one claim and failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination as to the other two claims. Smith appealed. The Appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision, but they did say it was “close.” AT&T did not discriminate against Smith by using the word tenured, because there were other employees of the same age as Smith who were promoted to customer service management positions.

Be aware of the verbiage used to speak to employees

This case is another example of how careful employers need to be about age discrimination, not only in job postings. It’s imperative to train managers about the vagaries of ageism in the workplace to avoid a costly lawsuit. Even though AT&T prevailed, the company still had a pretty hefty legal tab. Don’t try to get around the ADEA by using terminology that could screen out older workers, such as “digital native,” or “recent college grad.” Remind employees and managers about ageism. Document everything. Pay attention to other cases about age discrimination, such as the iTutor case or this case about retirement-driven talk. You may not be able to prevent an employee from feeling discriminated against, but you can certainly protect your business by doing what you can to avoid ageism.

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Opinion Editorials

Writing with pen and paper may mean your smarter than your digital peers

(EDITORIAL) Can writing old fashioned make you smarter? Once considered and art form, handwriting is becoming a thing of the past, but should it be?

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Writing on paper job titles.

When I was in college, in 2002, laptops weren’t really commonplace yet. Most students took notes by writing with pen and paper. Today, most students take notes with laptops, tablets, cell phones, or other electronic devices. The days of pen and paper seem to be fading. Some students even wait until the end of class and use their cell phones to take a picture of the whiteboard, so in effect, they are not absorbing any of the information because they “can just take a picture of it and look at it later.”

Is it easier to take notes on an electronic device? I think that largely depends on preference. I type faster than I write, but I still prefer to take notes on paper.

According to researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students who take handwritten notes generally outperform students who typed them.

Writing notes help students learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas, according to experiments by other researchers who also compared note-taking techniques.

While most students can type faster than they write, this advantage is short-term. As the WSJ points out, “after just 24 hours, the computer note takers typically forgot material they’ve transcribed, several studies said. Nor were their copious notes much help in refreshing their memory because they were so superficial.” So while it may take a bit longer to capture the notes by hand, more likely than not, you will retain the information longer if you put pen to paper.

As I teach English Composition at the University of Oklahoma, I would also like to say that while I find this to be true for myself, every student has a different learning style. Typed notes are much better than no notes at all. Some students detest writing by hand and I understand that. Everything in our world has gone digital from phones to cable television so it makes sense, even if I don’t like it, that students gravitate more towards electronic note taking than pen and paper.

While I would like to see more students take notes by hand, I certainly won’t require it. Some students are navigating learning disabilities, anxieties, and other impediments that make taking notes digitally more advantageous.

I imagine the same is true for other areas as well: instead of typing meeting notes, what would happen if you wrote them by hand? Would you retain the information longer? Perhaps, and perhaps not; again, I think this depends on your individual learning style.

I would like to suggest that if you are one of the more “electronically-minded” writers, use a flashcard app, or other studying tool to help you review your classroom notes or meeting notes to make them “stick” a bit better. While I find this type of research intriguing, if you enjoy taking your notes electronically, I wouldn’t change my method based on this.

If it’s working for you, keep doing it. Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here, writing everything down with pen and paper.

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Opinion Editorials

5 reasons using a VPN is more important now than ever

(EDITORIAL) Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but now, more than ever, entrepreneurs and businesses really should have them.

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VPN

Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but some recent developments in technology, laws, and politics are making them even more important for entrepreneurs and businesses.

A VPN serves as an intermediary layer of anonymity and security between your computer and your internet connection. Your Wi-Fi signal is a radio wave that can ordinarily be intercepted, so any data you transmit back and forth could be taken and abused by interested parties. VPNs act as a kind of middleman, encrypting the data you transmit and protecting you from those prying eyes.

Top10BestVPN.com offers a selection of some of the best-reviewed VPN services on the market; there you can see the different approaches to security and anonymity that different brands take, and get a feel for the price points that are available. But why is it that VPNs are becoming even more important for business owners and entrepreneurs?

These are just five of the emerging influencers in the increasing importance of VPNs:

1. The rise of IoT. The Internet of Things (IoT) is already taking off, with a predicted 8.4 billion devices will be connected to the internet by the end of the year. All those extra connections mean extra points of vulnerability; hackers are skilled at finding tiny entry points, so every new channel you open up on your Wi-Fi connection is another opportunity they could potentially exploit. Using a VPN won’t make your network completely hack-proof—user errors, like giving your password away in a phishing scam, are still a potential threat—but VPNs will make your network more secure than it was before.

2. The popularity of ransomware. Ransomware is growing in popularity, seizing control of devices, sometimes for weeks or months before activating, then holding the device “hostage,” and demanding payment in exchange for releasing the files that are stored on it. These attacks are fast and efficient, making them ideal for hackers to use against small businesses. Again, using a VPN won’t make you immune from these types of attacks, but they will make you harder to target—and hackers tend to opt for the path of least resistance.

3. The escalation of attacks on small businesses. Speaking of small businesses, they happen to be some of the most frequent targets of cybercriminals. About 43 percent of all cyberattacks target small businesses, in part because they have fewer technological defenses but still have valuable assets. Protecting yourself from cyberattacks is a must if you want your business to survive.

4. Political attacks on net neutrality. Politicians have recently attempted to attack and eliminate net neutrality, which is the long-standing guarantee that internet providers can’t violate user privacy by collecting and/or reporting on certain types of data, and can’t create “slow lanes” that throttle certain types of traffic. If net neutrality is abolished, you could face slower internet traffic and decreased privacy on the web. A VPN could, in theory, protect you from these effects. First, your web traffic would be anonymized, so internet providers couldn’t gather as much data on you as other customers. Second, you’ll be routed through a private VPN server, which could help you get around some of the speed throttling you might otherwise see. It’s uncertain whether net neutrality will ultimately fall, but if it does, you’ll want a VPN in place to protect you.

5. The affordability and diversity of VPNs available. Finally, it’s worth considering that VPNs are more affordable and more available than ever before. There are specific VPNs for all manner of businesses and individuals, and they’re all reasonably affordable. Inexpensive options can be yours for as little as a few dollars per month, and more robust, secure options are still affordable, even for frugal businesses. If you try a VPN provider you don’t like, you can always cancel and switch to another provider. This availability makes it easier to find exactly what you need.

If you’ve never used a VPN before and you’re confused, try not to be intimidated. VPNs sound complex, but connecting to one is a simple login process you can use on practically any device. The hardest part is choosing a reliable provider that suits your business’s need. With the influx of coming changes, it’s a good idea to get your VPN in place sooner rather than later.

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