It is like this.

I overheard a young(er) woman on the bus a few weeks ago talking on her cell phone.  Listening to her made me innerly grimmace.  Every phrase (not sentence, mind) was punctuated by "like". I was cringing because I could hear my voice in hers.  I distinctly remember training myself to use like when I was about 12 or 13.  I trained with the dedication and discipline to adopting this useless habit that I applied to skills I have forced myself to learn: typing without looking, driving in snowstorms and navigating the photocopier.  It is hard to believe now that I willingly and intentionally threw the chances of a credibile sounding speech pattern under the bus like that, but here we are.  I find myself rummage around in the dark for the right word or the willingness to say what I want to say directly and, unsure of my next step, "like" lights the way. But just like any adult who picked up smoking in her teens, now I need to quit before my kids get wind of it.  It is overserving its purpose and making me sound tentative and ridiculous.

I have always been quite reliant on similes* if I am honest, but similes are a force for good in many instances.

On one of the early days that I had off from my paying job to care for my infant son, I had to return to work for a one day training session.  As my mom kept my son's insatiable hunger at bay in the library next door, I propped myself with a coffee and participated in the training.  So at a loss was I for the right words, not having needed proper words for concepts for a few months, I reached for what has always served me at these times, shiny, reachable, incomprehensible to everyone except me, similes.  Since I was the one being trained, and not the one training others, I figured however I grasped the concepts should be fine.

Ah, the simile.  All day long, as we discussed principles of adult learning and English as an Additional Language acqusition I spluttered out simile after simile.
"Oh you mean like when you try to juice a kiwi? You know there is juice in there, you've tasted it, but all you get is a squeezy, pulpy mess"
"Oh, like when you get wet boots as you walk in the slushy icy snow between curbs?"
"I know what that's like, that is like when you mix lemon juice and caramel sauce together!"

The limp smiles of the trainers betrayed that my similes were not really helping them measure their outcomes, but I knew deep down that this was why "like" was invented.  It was invented for the times when we do not have the words we need but we still require understanding and connection. It is for unmasking obscure ideas that others are trying to get across. For all the other times,  it is not required.  Deciding when those times are occuring is the challenge.


a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared, as in “she is like a rose.”Compare metaphor.
an instance of such a figure of speech or a use of words exemplifying it.
1350–1400; Middle English  < Latin:  image, likeness, comparison, noun use of neuter of similis similar