Linguists--a questions regarding dialectical expression "Like to"

Once in awhile I encounter “like to”, roughly equivalent in meaning to “just about” or “almost”, as in “The whisky was so bad it like to burnt my throat as it went down”. The first time I saw it I thought it was completely without any
grammatical basis, since how could anyone . Now I see that, while not standard English, it could indeed have a rational underlying structure as a single morpheme which is spelled as two words. Then it makes perfect sense to have the past tense “burnt” immediately following the “to”.

Does anyone know where it comes from? Is it an African-American expression? It was in such a context that
last encountered it.

In the second sentence I meant to say "since how could anyone put a past tense verb right after a “to”.

Perhaps it is a relic of a more old-fashioned form of English, i.e. “like unto”, as used, for instance, in the King James Bible.

I’ve heard it used in Kentucky. I always assumed it was related to “likely to.”

The dictionary says its nonstandard for came close to (doing something): I liked to died from laughing. [ME, OE gelic]

It’s, like, valley girl dialect gone bad.

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least –
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at Heaven’s gate.
    For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
    That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

-Shakespeare, Sonnet 29
(my favourite)

oops, missed another one:

…Wishing me like to one more rich in hope…
(l5 of above)

aviddiva, interesting find, but I think the usage in the sonnet is different from the usage javaman quotes.

The Shakespearean “like to” is not different from modern standard usage of “like to”, meaning “similar to” (the object is a noun), whereas the other usage means “came close to doing” (the object is a verb) and is not standard usage.

That seems most likely. :wink:

It’s not a far stretch from the somewhat grammatical “son, git off th’ roof or yur like’ to fall and bust yur head” to the less grammatical “he done fell off the roof an’ like to bust his head”

I’ve done some research on this question myself. I concluded, (with no great authority behind me, I hasten to add) that like to in this sense is an adverbial phrase. My evidence is that it can almost always be replaced by another adverb, such as “nearly.” They way I have heard it used, it can not generally be replaced with “likely to” and keep the same meaning. I have heard it from rural folks in West Virginia and northern New England, and I have never heard anyone use a past tense “liked to” in this sense. The past time is indicated by the past tense of the verb that follows “like to.”

The reason I started thinking about this years ago was a line from a Stephen King novel in which (I believe) King misunderstood the usage of the phrase. I think it was from near the beginning of Salem’s Lot. I’m not sure of the exact wording, but it was a Maine dairyman talking about sour cream. He said IIRC “I tried it once and liked to puke.” From this, I could only conclude that the dairyman was bulimic. In my experience, a Maine dairyman would be much more likely to say “I like to puked.”

I’ve been using “like(d) to” all my life, without ever having thought about whether it might be non-standard to someone else’s ear. I was so surprised when I read the OP that I liked to shit. You mean you all don’t say this each and every day???

I guess if it’s in your dialect, it’s no more mysterious that any other idiom, such as “put up with.”

By the way, I’m a native Texan.

I believe there are examples of this expression in Huckleberry Finn and other Clemens works. I unfortunately don’t have any copies onhand to check, however.
I think of the expression as being a rural Midwestern and Southern thing. I am from NC and tend to hear the expression from people with heavy Southern accents.

…'round here (GA) it sounds more like “like to’ve” or “like to have” as in “I like to’ve died laughing”…


writefetus, that’s the way I’ve often heard it myself (also originally from GA! Hey!).

bibliophage, I heard it used both ways. My Dad’s mother usually said “like to [died laughing]” but my Mama’s mother had a habit of emphasizing each word, as in “I…liked…to…have…died!” Grandma (Daddy’s mother) lived most of her life in Georgia, while Meme was born in NC and lived many places all over the south.

BTW, this is one of those phrases that gives me away. I live in Illinois now, and most people don’t think I have a southern accent. Every now and again I’ll use that phrase (or “fixin’” as in about to do something, or the ever popular “y’all”) and someone will ask me where I’m from. Of course, if I’m mad or drinking, all that southern stuff comes out. This is possibly reason enough not to drink.

Oh, and javaman, it is not specific to African-Americans. We’re all 'bout as white as they come, honey.

See, y’all got me started.

Makes sense. I have heard African-Americans say it, but I thought it might be more of a Southern expression spoken by
anyone there regardless of race. The quote I referred to
in my OP was by Chuck Berry, in his autobiography. He grew up in Missouri, which isn’t exactly the South, but it’s kind of in that direction.