18 July 2007

It's, Like (You Know), Unmitigated Bullshit (updated)

Here's the biggest, steaming, corn-infested lot I've seen in some time.  Key quote:

Parents may gnash their teeth, but language scholars like like.

"It's a shame this poor little usage gets such a bum rap," says Jennifer Dailey-O'Cain, an associate professor at the University of Alberta in Canada.  Dailey-O'Cain, who has published an often-cited study on the use of like, says, "It's innovative, it serves a particular function and it does specific things that you can't duplicate with other quotatives."

Someone needs to revoke that woman's tenure-- even if it is at U of A.

FOLLOWUP:  I mentioned Frye in the comments.  Here's a good example of the sort of thing I'm talking about, and for which the common usage of "like" is cognate:

The other day a student came to consult me about a failure in English, and what he said, as I recorded immediately he left, was this:

Y'know, I couldn't figure what happened, cause, jeez, well, I figured, y'know, I had that stuff cold-- I mean, like I say, I'd gone over the stuff 'an figured I knew it, and-- well, jeez, I do' know.

I submit that this is not prose, and I suspect he had failed because he had not understood the difficulties of translating his speech into prose.  He was, of course, "taking" English.  But English was not taking him: fifteen years of schooling had failed to make any impression on his speech habits.

(Northrop Frye, The Well-Tempered Critic)

(That speech, by the way, I heard, in one form or another, countless times in my day.)  With Dailey-O'Cain and those who concur with her, we have academics acting as apologists for filler "language," for the babble of syllabic fumbling and stumbling.  In short, it's the evidence of inchoate thinking-- and a result of untimely and ill-considered expression.  So, yes, if you will:  like is, quite literally, a premature ejaculation.  Something to consider, non?

You have to love the (Groucho) Marxist turn by Frye there: "But English was not taking him."  Alas, English isn't taking a great number of its students these days.... 


Pious Labours said...

As long as it's considered informal, that's fine.

Scholars keep telling us that "like" is bound by certain rules. Then again, so are many swear words, such as "fuck." Fuck has a variety of uses, and is consistent throughout (you can never say "unbelievafuckinable"; it must always be un-fuckingbelievable).

J, I'm curious to see your vehement objection to the "authorities" in the article, apart from the obvious.

sylvia said...

OMG. I edited her once. (But, like, not the article about "like".)

PL, I'm actually partial, for reasons of rhythmic cadence, to "unbefuckinglievable". Try it and see what you think ;^).

Dr J said...

PL, "like" --- used in such contexts-- adds absolutely nothing to meaning or clarity. It is, in fact, an intellectual stutter guised as a word, and ergo a sign of verbal & conceptual sloppiness. It's probably the only remnant of the Valley Girl culture pervasive in contemporary language, but to have academicians defending such nonsense is VERY disturbing. Then again, such dunderheads also defend the bastardizations of netspeak as formal language. (Somewhere, Orwell's dust is swirling.) Only in this day & age would Language Theorists justify such intellectual & grammatical indolence. BTW, for a good take on this, see Frye's The Well-Tempered Critic.

As for the word "fuck," it has such a vast history that it gets used in every possible context, unfortunately to the word's detriment. It has become omnisemous, and so been weakened into near meaninglessness, which is truly unfortunate because it is a great fucking word. If you haven't, see the movie Fuck. Very funny stuff, indeed.

Syl-- You edited her? Oh, how I pity thee....

sylvia said...

Syl-- You edited her? Oh, how I pity thee....

Honestly, I don't remember that her article was particularly terrible (it was about code-switching, and was co-written with someone else; you can read the abstract here). I only remember her because she's from Alberta and has a strange last name.

Quite a lot of what I edit is drivel, so you have to be pretty egregious in some way in order to stand out (e.g., the woman from some very podunk SUNY who insisted that I reinstate her grammatical errors because her version sounded better; the law prof who assumed I was a lazy-ass law student and wrote "YOU COULD HAVE FOUND THIS YOURSELF IN THE LIBRARY" after every query reply; the book-review editor who took me to task for daring to change people's commas, because "These people have PhDs in English! They already know how to write!!" [FTR, the writers in question did not complain at all]).

Hockey Jones said...

If you are French Canadian I think the rules allow "unbelievafuckinable" also "shitfuck".

j said...

wow, rochester would have been proud with that debate over the f-bleep-k word - oh for a fuzzy duck!

sylvia, that editor probably never had to read some of those phds' writing - mebbe the trick is to make everything so incomprehensible that no one can criticise you without them seeming to be out of the loop!

dr j - never figured you as a frye fan, thought you didn't like snotty humour :P one wonders if he was of kind temper or was he merely tempered by his scholarly encounters?

Dr J said...

Actually, j, Frye is one of the lit-critters I esteem most highly. He's lucid, observant, witty & often profound. Reading him is, for me, like reading Aristotle: it's a return to elementarity, to the nuts & bolts of thought before they get obfuscated, forgotten and ignored. And he's a damned good writer, which is a bloody rarity in lit-crit these days.

Blog Archive