January 03, 2004

Exclusive: God uses "like" as hedge

My friend Tom Hukari in Canada points out this recent news item in USA Today:

Norfolk, Va. -- Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson said yesterday he believes God told him U.S. President George W. Bush will be re-elected in a November "blowout."

"I think George Bush is going to win in a walk," Mr. Robertson said on his 700 Club program on the Virginia-Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network, which he founded. "I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004."

I read what Robertson is hearing from the Lord not as a rather odd claim about similarity (that something unspecified is going to be similar to a blowout election in 2004) but as a claim that a blowout election will occur, with a hedge on the NP a blowout election. So assuming Pat's report accurately reflects what God saith unto him, it seems the Lord may have said "It's going to be, like, a blowout election in 2004, Pat." (I've added the commas that are normally used around the hedging like. The commas would not be discernible in the almighty's speech, of course, and were not included in USA Today, which is a tertiary source.)

One might have thought that God would be a user of the alternate educated-English phrase if you will, but apparently not. God seems to use like in this sort of hedging function. This may indicate, surprisingly, that God uses a younger-generation dialect in his communications with the older generation, or it may indicate a preference for communicating with people in their native dialect. We should be grateful to Pat, because linguists don't often get to do this sort of dialect philology on the speech of the Lord, even at second remove.

[Revised January 4th, 2004.]

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at January 3, 2004 07:15 PM