"He was like" usage - when, and where, did it originate?

“I went to go talk to Gary, and he was like, ‘sorry, I don’t think I can help you.’”

“We tried to buy the beer, and they were all like, ‘you need to have two forms of ID.’”

“Trista called and she was all like, ‘fuck you, I never want to see you again.’”

Etc etc. You know the usage I mean. I feel like it’s most commonly used when someone is relating a story about some disappointing, frustrating or inconveniencing incident in the recent past.

When did this start to become common? I feel like it can’t possibly have been before the 1960s, and maybe even not before the 1980s. Did it originate in “surfer talk”? “Valley girl”? Or is it from black urban lingo, or somewhere else?

My guess is Valley girls, in the '80s.

A slippery slope that started here: Winston tastes good like a cigarette should - Wikipedia

I recall an episode of the Brady Bunch, where Greg, ah like talks, like that.

And Mrs Brady asks what’s up with the “likes” and Greg says, that is like the way kids, like talk today.

That’s different from the “was like” usage which essentially means “said”. If you listen to Zappa’s 1982 Valley Girl, Moon Unit uses “like” as a placeholder, per Greg Brady - but doesn’t use it to indicate speech or action.

I first heard it from an American friend in 1993. He often used it with a mime or facial gesture, as well as reported speech.

This is called the quotative use of “like.” My searching has found an article pulished in an academic journal in 1990 about its use in American English. Unfortunately, I can’t get the article to open. In any case, it was already common enough in 1990 to be noticed and commented on by people studying American English usuage.

Note that the OP (intentionally or not) also used the “all” slang, although it doesn’t require a “like” to follow it.

I saw Todd and he was all, why are you saying like all the time?

I would like to point out that “like” is not the same as “said.” It seems to me that people that don’t use “like” interpret it that way [COLOR=black][FONT=Trebuchet MS]erroneously. [/FONT][/COLOR]

I could be out in left field here, but I interpret “said” as more of a quotation. It would be more true to the person’s actual words.

“Like” is used more as a display of position. The OP’s third example fits this more. The extent of the OP’s and Trista’s conversation was not conveyed by this quote. The OP’s take on the conversation was summed up in a “like” statement.

If the OP had posted “Trista called and she said, ‘fuck you, I never want to see you again.’” Then we would tend to believe that those words were actually what Trista said.

I grew up south of LA in the relevant timeframe. Kids at my high school in the late '70s didn’t use that idiom that I noticed. “Like” as a placeholder akin to “um” or “er” was common. It dates IIRC back to the late 60s. “Like” as quoatation was not used at all.

When I attended college in LA proper from the late 70s to early 80s, I encountered lots of kids from elsewhere in SoCal who were using “like” quotatively (per Wendall Wagner). I can’t say now that I know where any specific “like” user came from, but about 1/2 the student body was from the San Fernando Valley (of “Valley Girl” fame) or the eastern suburbs.

So I’m betting not far from then & there was where it got going.
I also agree with Hermitian’s point just above that “like” was used to signify summarizing the gist or bottom line of a 3rd party conversation, not to quote specific words. Seen that way, the derivation makes a lot more sense.

Yes, I also agree that quotative ‘like’ doesn’t just quote words; it can be followed by a physical action as well. With the sentence “And he was, like, what?” the word ‘what’ might be accompanied by the speaker exaggerating a confused facial expression or posture.

I think it started in like the hippie days, man. Like when sounds had color and everything was like groovy, you know?

I agree with this. “Like,” in my interpretation, is a summary of a quote or action that follows. For example, if I heard “and I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’” I take that to mean that “my reaction was surprise” not that literally “I said ‘Oh, my God!’” “Said,” to me, indicates an attempt at an objective verbatim account of what was actually spoken.

Back in 1994 or so, I started noticing a variation on “She was like …” –

"She was all … " And about half the time, there was no verbal conclusion to the sentence, just facial expressions and gesturing.

Also, Wikipedia has a run-down of all the uses of like in English.

1928 is the earliest non-traditional use of the word like reported there:

If these are the sorts of things that interest you, there’s a PDF here of the quotative and intensifier uses of the word all. According to the article, the quotative use of all “apparently originat[ed] in California in the 1980s.” Also, the paper remarks that the usage peaked in the 90s, and is in decline right now.

Good point, but I can attest to it being a Beatnik thing from maybe a decade earlier. If I had to point to a year, I would say 1950, give or take two.

My own usage of it didn’t start until the early 60’s and it seemed a cool thing at that time.

On the decline? I’m all, thank God for that!

As if. :slight_smile:


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