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Words I'm Looking Up



adv. ... as for example: 'great dramatists like Sophocles and Shakespeare' - Webster's New World College Dictionary (sixth definition)

prep. ... such as; for example: 'saved things like old newspapers and pieces of string' - American Heritage Dictionary (fifth definition)

There's a cold war going on between me and another copy editor at my freelance job, although she doesn't realize it. Every time I copy edit a document that contains the this usage of "like," I leave it as is. But if she's the final proofreader, she changes each of these "likes" to "such as."

The reason? Traditionalists say that "like" means "similar to" - not "for example." So if you say that dramatists are like Sophocles, you're not saying he is one. You're saying that, though dramatists and Sophocles are similar, they are not the same animal. And indeed, if you're only reading the first four or five dictionary definitions of "like," you would reasonably conclude as much.

But if you read all the definitions of "like," you'll see that it's also a synonym for "such as." You could make a good case for preferring "such as." But you can't say that one is right and the other wrong.

Period. Done. End of discussion.

But for me, the fun part comes before we even read the definitions. That little "adv." before the Webster's definition and the "prep." before American Heritage delight me to no end. I just love it when dictionaries can't decide what part of speech a word is. It's all the more reason why Joe and Jane Doe should not feel bad about their grammar skills.

7 Comment count
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June, any idea how the word

June, any idea how the word "like" came to be used in Valley speak (e.g., Oooh, he's so cute and, like, I couldn't think of anything to, like, say.)?

In the cold war, I'd have to align myself with you.

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I, like, don't know

Etymology and trends and linguistic evolutions are not my area of expertise. All I know about the hiccup-like "like" is that the experts now say it's a sometimes-acceptable interjection of the new generation.

And that like totally infuriates some people!

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meaty stuff here.

June, what part of speech is "such as" and "like" as used here? I am glad we can use words without knowing what classifications grammarians assign to them.

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Good question

Here you could say they're working as prepositions ("such as" being a phrasal preposition). HOWEVER, dictionaries disagree. Webster's New World says this "like" is an adverb. American Heritage says it's a preposition. Truth is, it's not cut-and-dried. It's a matter of lexicographers' interpretation of how they're being used. 

Re grammarians' classifications: Our usage is not based on their categorizations. Their categorizations are based on our usage! So, yes. What you said!

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What if a great dramatist

What if a great dramatist DOESN'T like Sophocles or Shakespeare?

(By the way, does Sophocles rhyme with bees' knees, or is it So Focals, like "bifocals."

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Me no pronounce things good

In fact, I don't trust anyone's pronunciation of ancient words from foreign languages. There seems to be a lot of guesswork involved and even the more concrete assumptions just can't be connected in any meaningful way with the "music" of a language.

That's why I've been attracted to studying French and Spanish and Italian and Arabic but never Latin. I can't hear it in my mind. So it just can't come to life for me.

(P.S. I hear Cicero's name was pronounced Kick-er-o. I don't now if that's true.)

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I agree

It can be dicey guessing how any language was pronounced, but linguists have devised a few methodologies over the years.

It's true the Romans pronounced "c" like "k," since they didn't use the letter K like the Greeks whom they conquered did. The "s" sound for C came to English during the Middle Ages through French, apparently—the Anglo Saxons pronounced it like the Romans did. Italians even today don't say "sis-er-o"; they spell it Cicerone, pronounced "chee-cheh-ROH-neh." (I'm guessing Sicilians don't pronounce that final E.)

Let's tussle with IVLIVS CAESAR next...

Huntington Sharp, Red Room