Friday, 5 August 2011

Like it or not!

A curious phenomenon has crept into spoken English, namely the substitution of the verb say and its variants says and said with mlike, zlike and rlike when conversations are reported.

Sample utterances:
  • “So my teacher zlike: Where’s your homework? And I mlike: Sorry, Miss, I left my book at home. And she zlike: That’s unacceptable! And I mlike: Yes, Miss, but …”
  • “So we say to the other team, You’re cheating! And they rlike, No we’re not. And we rlike, Yes you are – we saw you!”
This use of like here is not the same as the use of like in “He’s like, cool, like.” And it’s also different from using like to mean “approximately” as in “My car cost like R20 000 to fix” and “It’s only like 6 a.m. in America now.”

The items mlike, zlike and rlike represent a modern example of the gap between written and spoken English and of inconsistencies in our writing conventions. Since it is the combination of the last s of she’s (pronounced “z”) and the word like that replaces say and its variants, and not like by itself, it would, strictly speaking, be wrong to write “She’s like …”, since like is no longer a separate word here. Which makes my (somewhat zany?) spelling the more accurate option!

I must admit: I find mlike, rlike and zlike quite cool, like, and like it or not, they are here to stay – for at least another like 100 years!

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