“Like” as Infix.

Stan Carey describes a new and surprising development in English As She Is Spoke:

The latest novel use to which like is being put is as an infix. Infixes are a pretty small set in English, so a new one is a genuine surprise, linguistically. In some ways it is unlikeprecedented. […]

This re-like-markable innovation seems to have been around for a couple of decades at least (see below), but it came to my attention only recently, through The Vocal Fries, a podcast about linguistic discrimination. Episode 21 features (guess who!) Alexandra D’Arcy, who, around 23 minutes in, discusses the different roles of like and says:

And now there’s an infix. Right? So you can get—I can’t do it, it’s not part [of my grammar], it’s too new for me. This one’s genuinely new, but younger speakers can say things [like] ‘un-like-believable’. Right? ‘She’s un-like-sympathetic’… […]

Certain words are more amenable than others to like­-infixation, for both semantic and morphosyntactic reasons. Forever forming for like ever is a particularly common construction (it even features in a popular print), with ever sometimes typed in all caps (for like EVER) to like add to the user’s expressive style.

Browsing Twitter suggests it’s pretty much all younger people using it, mostly young women – ever in the vanguard of linguistic change – but a fair number of young men too.

There are further examples and corpus counts, and I can’t argue with his conclusion: “Within a generation it’ll feel like like has been an infix for like ever.”

Comments

  1. Transcluding my comment at Stan’s:

    I would tend to discard the for, like, ever evidence altogether [which is far and away the most common example], because it’s questionable whether forever is one word or two. It was routinely spelled for ever until the 19C, it alternates with expressions like for life and for two years, and its emphatic form is forever and ever, not forever and forever.

  2. Also “For fucking ever” has been around, well, for fucking ever. Unless “fucking” is also an infix. “Un-fucking-sympathetic” also sounds acceptable to me, and “un-fucking-believable” completely standard.

  3. All these examples are still very morphemic. In “forever”, I’d say it’s even compoundy. “fucking” is at least one step down the infix road, the prosodic phase – fan-fucking-tastic, Minne-fucking-sota.

  4. David Marjanović says:

    I haven’t noticed infixed like. I’ve probably come across for, like, ever, which seems completely unremarkable to me because forever is such a loose compound, if any. Spelling-wise, “for ever” has 96,200,000 ghits, the 10th of which is the Wiktionary article on for ever and ever, which calls forever and ever an alternative spelling. I need to check whether David Cameron pronounced for ever with a pause and a glottal stop in his famous rap, but I’m pretty sure he did…

    Infixed fucking sometimes goes all the way to being inserted before the stressed syllable regardless of (synchronic) morphology: unbe-fucking-lievable. Fanfuckingtastic has 234,000 ghits.

  5. would tend to discard the for, like, ever evidence altogether [which is far and away the most common example]

    Yeah, I had the same reaction. If that had been the only evidence, I wouldn’t have bothered posting.

  6. J.W. Brewer says:

    Expletive-infixation as in fanfuckingtastic is the subject of scholarly attention going back decades. It was covered in a morphology class I took in 1986. But those infixes typically function in that construction as intensifiers, and it seems like “like” is doing something other than that.

  7. -fucking- is indeed an infix, and it goes before the stressed syllable (almost?) always. Similarly treated are -goddam- and (in one memorable Australian example) -bloody-.

    The example, quoted in The American Language, was imma-bloody-material, where the pretonic syllable of immaterialwas reduplicated, presumably so as not to leave i(m) isolated.

  8. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Mention of Minnefuckingsota made me notice how many US states lend themselves to infixes, and how few presidents do; Califuckingfornia, Alafuckingbama, Missifuckingsippi, Pennsylfuckingvania, Idafuckingho, Arifuckingzona, Oklafuckinghoma, Massafuckingchusetts, Delafuckingware all sound quite natural, and others sound close to natural, like Orefuckinggon, Washingfuckington, Connectifuckingcut. For presidents we have to go all the way to Eisenfuckinghower, and he’s one of the least likely to be honoured in that way. Too many are monosyllabic: where do you put an infix in Trump, Bush, Ford? The disyllables are no better: Clinton, Johnson, Reagan, Nixon, Carter? Even trisyllabic Obama doesn’t really work: maybe Ofuckingbama, but Obafuckingma doesn’t work at all.

  9. Orefuckinggon, Washingfuckington, Connectifuckingcut

    All of these are flat ungrammatical for me, and would require the states to be pronounced as two words: ora gone or ory gun, washing ton, connetty cut, all of which are impossible. The first two have initial stress and can’t be infixed; the last would be Conn-fucking-(n)ecticut.

    There was a brave girl of Connecticut
    Who flagged the express with her pecticut,
    Which her elders defined
    As presence of mind,
    But deplorable absence of ecticut. —Ogden Nash

    (This requires more vowel reduction than I actually have, but I like it anyway.)

    As for presidents, I would go with O-fucking-bama, perhaps because O. Bahma is a conceivable pronunciation (normally a single vowel before the stress doesn’t fly).

  10. The traditional prescription distinguished “for ever” ‘for all time, eternally’ from “forever” ‘all the time, constantly’. I doubt whether this distinction influences the likelihood of allowing infixing.

  11. J.W. Brewer says:

    Going back to antebellum days, Van Buren and Buchanan might be suitable for infixation. I think trisyllables don’t work if they have first-syllable stress, so the Harrisons and Roosevelts are protected.

  12. Forever, meaning “constantly,” is too high register in my American English for those infixes to work. They sound reasonably grammatical, yet absurd.

  13. I hear this one a lot. “For-like-fucking-ever”

  14. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Orefuckinggon… All of these are flat ungrammatical for me

    In Oregon itself, yes, but I usually heard it as Orry gone when I lived in California (a pronunciation that Oregonians don’t like).

  15. It’s true that the vowels of Oregon are different within and without the State, but nobody pronounces it with final stress or as two words, like “Where has Orrie gone?”, which is what Ore-fucking-gon would require, at least for me. That said, there is this joke (as the German specialist in das Komische used to say):

    What did Tennessee?

    The same thing that Arkansas.

    What did Delaware?

    Idaho, Alaska.

    Song lyrics.

  16. In Oregon itself, yes, but I usually heard it as Orry gone when I lived in California

    Really? I’m a Californian and I’d associate the long ‘e’ pronunciation solely with recent transplants from elsewhere in the States, not with West Coast natives. Same with people who say “Nevahhhda.”

  17. J.W. Brewer says:

    Dela-INFIX-ware would work prosodically for the nationally-standard pronunciation of the state’s name, albeit not for the used-by-some-locals variant with loss of final-syllable stress (and accompanying vowel reduction). But I can’t say I’ve ever heard it, with any INFIX.

  18. @laowai: Just like the English blame almost all pronunciations they don’t like on Americans, Oregonians blame nearly all mispronunciations of their state name on Californians. Seriously.

  19. I find myself largely unfamiliar with like as an infix, which surprises me since I’m under 30 and not hostile to other newer uses of the word. Like JC, though, I find it unremarkable in forever and would chalk it up to the separability of that word. Tangentially, that reminds me of a Bernie Mac bit:

    I said, “Hey my brother, what you in for?”
    He said, “Nuthin.”
    I said, “How long you in for?”
    He said, “Ever.”
    Now you know it’s a long time when you take the for off that motherfucker.

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