Like, Totally: A Brief History of “Like” in Pop Culture

Recently we read yet another article about the word “like” as used by those darn kids today. We feel like we’ve been reading incarnations of this article since we became aware of the phenomenon, a verbal tic that, like it or not, has been more or less embraced by youths and even adults since the ’60s. However you characterize it — a “filler” word, a nonsense qualifier, or, as we used to insist to our parents, a way of tempering whatever you’re talking about — it’s like, pretty much here to stay.

For proof, we’ve put together a brief history of the most prominent appearances of the “like” craze in pop culture, from a 1920s New Yorker cartoon to Clueless. Indeed, almost as soon as the word rose to prominence, the pop cultural references began to be self-aware, if not flat-out self-mocking. Shaggy’s surfer-dude lingo is already half-ironic, and of course by the time Zappa got his hands on “Valspeak” in the early ’80s it was already something to be cruelly satirized. However, this hasn’t staunched the flow, and teenagers continue to use the word willy nilly, no matter how their teachers wail. Click through to see some of our favorite ‘like’ abusers in pop culture, and let us know how you feel about the word in the comments.

A cartoon in The New Yorker, September 15, 1928

This is one of the first recorded appearances of this kind of usage, or at least the earliest that we could dig up. Even in the cartoon’s context, it seems unwieldy and out of place, not quite settled into the collective consciousness yet.