cover image Like, Literally, Dude: Arguing for the Good in Bad English

Like, Literally, Dude: Arguing for the Good in Bad English

Valerie Fridland. Viking, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-29832-9

Fridland, a professor of linguistics at the University of Nevada, Reno, debuts with a smart and detailed apologia for speech habits that “violate our sense of linguistic decorum.” Documenting the etymological history of literally, like, um, and other quirks of speech, Fridland argues that they often serve to make people seem more approachable and considerate, and reveals that, rather than “arising from ignorance, laziness, or the sad decay of our grammatical principles,” many of these speech habits developed centuries ago. For example, the word like appears in its current “discourse-marking” function as far back as 18th-century British court transcripts, and the “hesitating marker” um first appeared in the 17th-century play The Mistake. According to Fridland, these and other speech habits often reveal something crucial about the identity of the speakers. For instance, working-class men are likely to employ the verb ending -in (as in sittin’) because its informal nature suggests an in-group solidarity, while women, who Fridland shows have always been at the forefront of linguistic evolution, are likely to lower their pitch to appear powerful and gain social influence. Scholarly yet accessible, and often very witty, this is a winning look at how language evolves. Agent: Becky Sweren, Aevitas Creative Management. (Apr.)