26 September 2019

The Oxford Hotten Tots

I find it a particular pleasure to sit on Oxford buses and listen to young females chattering. There are of course the intermittent well-nigh orgasmic shrieks of Omigoddery; but what I like best is the beautifully honed narrative style wherein the syllable like is interpolated every two or three words. I believe the Hottentot language, also, advances by means of just such repeated clicking sounds; so on an Oxford Number 35 bus, I can close my eyes and imagine myself miles away from the res publica litterarum and on the broad, generous havannas of South West Africa listening to the unspoiled indigenous peoples clicking cheerfully away as if Rousseau still lives and there is no tomorrow.

In his Barchester Pilgrimage, signed off by Mgr Ronald Knox on the Feast of S Ewold 1935, the right reverend Protonotary Apostolic records his aged source Mr Bunce as claiming that it was from the 1890s that "folks began to go frivolous like". Knox observes "The truth of the matter is ... that Mr Bunce began to go forty like; after which age ... [people] notice that the young ... have begun to go frivolous like."

I wonder when this delicious Hotten Tottery, this clicking away with unending likes, first began. And where ... surely not among the ancient bedesmen of Hiram's Hospital in Barchester?

12 comments:

Pelerin said...

This did make me laugh. I find myself counting how many 'likes' I hear in one conversation on one bus ride. Well, it does help to pass the time. If only they could hear themselves. I do wonder if it is the modern-day equivalent of 'um.'

Paul in Melbourne, Australia said...

You are a very acute observer. So true. We all love you elegantly amusing style.

vetusta ecclesia said...

I have just returned from the US where, true to its bigger and better form, the youth interpolate “like” with even greater machinegun rapidity

Sue Sims said...

'Like' is used by these girls in two main ways: the one you've observed (technically a filler) started in a small way late last century (possibly originating on the west coast of the USA, but no one's sure) and has metastasized hugely. It's partly a filled pause (like 'um' or 'er'), to give the brain time to think, and partly self-deprecatory: "I don't want you to think that I'm one of those nasty people who's always certain about everything." That's probably why, though both sexes use it, research indicates it's more common in women.

The other usage is more interesting: it replaces the 'he said' element in reported speech. So you'll hear one of your bus girls say to her friend: "So she was like 'You can't go looking like that' and I was like 'You gonna stop me?' and she was like 'You f-ing slag'", etc, etc. My generation used 'go' in a similar way ("She went 'You can't go out...'"). There's a fairly strong social class element here, though, which doesn't affect the filler use of 'like' quite so much.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Father. Anything irksome likely issued from Hollywood. Maybe "Valley of the Dolls" as Talking like a Valley girl is a thing

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Father. Perhaps it is not like this in England but in America 95% of every single conversation or every single spoken paragraph begins with the word, So;

So, what are you doing?

So, I was like headed for the Mall when...

So, what are you gonna watch tonight?

So, I was like watching Greta at the UN..


To be fair, ABS did round-up from 94.6 %

Kathleen1031 said...

In the states it is teen-speak, and I assume it came out of California which has started many a language trend for some reason, such as "Valley Girl speak", which is pretty impossible to describe but unmistakable when you hear it. "Like, oh my Gooood….she said...and then he was like...whaaaattt???", and so on. Oy. In addition many young girls use this guttural vocal tone which is really grating once you know they are doing it, but they don't even realize they are doing this. It is to use a lower vocal register than one should, almost a "glottal fry", and it makes them sound rather "froggy", but they surely have no idea. Many young women actually use a voice lower than the one they should use. It's all cultural affectation, but they have no idea. But the worst of all, is to hear how many boys and young men all sound like effeminates. Raised by Mom's, bereft of dads, they all sound like weathermen, which in the states, are often effeminate for some mysterious reason.

Banshee said...

If you're really interested, there's a gigantically long book, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, by Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey Pullum, which can inform you on the point.

Pullum is a nice guy in person and a twit online, but he knows his stuff.

GOR said...

I suspect it is a generational thing. Back in the murky past it was common to insert “you know” (or more accurately: “y’know”) liberally in speech. When in Rome it amused me to note that one of my confreres had ported it to the Italian “sai”. He could not complete a sentence without one – or many – iterations of sai.

Scribe said...

Our much-revered Father Rector begins every Mass with 'So': 'So welcome to today's Mass for the thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time', etc. As for 'like', Yogi Bear would often call for assistance with the cry: 'Like - Help!'Here in Liverpool (and maybe elsewhere) people use the expression 'turned round'. 'I told him Liverpool would win, and he turned round and said, "No way". Bill was there, and he turned round and said...'So I listen to all this, and I'm like, Omigawd!

John said...

I haven’t noticed "like" so much any more. Which may not mean that it’s dying out but that it’s become so ubiquitous that it doesn’t register any more.

What seems ever more prevalent is that change in. . . hmmm. . . what would you call it? Accent? Tone? That rise in pitch at the end of every statement that turns every sentence into question. Once noticed, it’s fascinating to listen to. I wonder where it came from?

(Ulster people have a version of it but theirs is traditional and they’ve had it for a very long time. It seems a natural part of the lilt.)

Johnjohn said...

When I return to my native Ireland (Dublin) and find myself upstairs in a bus I am fascinated to here, like, not only the word like in practically every sentence, but I could swear that most of the your girls are developing an American accent. Sad.
As a teacher used to say in class, when I was a youngster, "if our brave heroes came back from the dead to see the Ireland they died for"