Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Like, I like Ilk

Like, I like Ilk

I’ve always been fond of the word ilk. It’s just far enough outside the everyday words of my suburban American life that hearing it sparks that unexpected thrill of baklava or pointilism or mariachi music – just rare enough to make me smile.

In Old English, ilk was spelled ilca & meant same. It could be used as both a noun & adjective. It came from the Proto-Germanic word, ij-lik, which also spawned the recently beleaguered word, like.

I’ll admit it, I am among those annoying teachers & adults who frown upon the use of the word like as a filler:
Like, the word ilk just makes me smile.

It also curdles my cheese when like is used as a discourse particle:
I’m like, “Dude, I love the word ilk.”

Though many assume that Moon Unit Zappa & all those Valley Girls are responsible for both twisted usages, the discourse particle usage predates Moon Unit’s birth (probably some time in the early 1950s) & the first written instance of like as a filler appeared in1886 in Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson:
“’What’s like wrong with him?’ said she at last.”
Heavy sigh.

Interestingly, some other earlier forms of the adjective like didn’t make it to the modern vernacular, but instead, faded out in the 1700s. Consider the words liker & likest:

The moon is liker the earth than the sun.
Osbaldo is the person likest me in my family.

My wonderful 1959 Webster’s new World Dictionary suggests that like can function as all these parts of speech, though I find the asterisked ones hard to swallow:

a verb -
Phoebe likes figs smothered in melted brie.

an adjective –
After Garcon’s outburst, Consuela responded in like manner.

a noun -
Like attracts like.

an adverb -
Due to his old Anglo-Saxon work ethic, Yalmer works like mad.

a pronoun* -
Wilbert was like a man possessed.

a conjunction* -
It was just like Ludwiga said, Terence simply had no sense.

a preposition* -
Quimby is like a walking encyclopedia.

and as a suffix -
When he pouts like that, Umberto can be so childlike.

Dear followers, what do you have to say about the usage (or misusage) of like, or about the sheer beauty of ilk?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, The Hot Word, Denise Winterman’s BBC article, & Etymonline,


  1. Ooooh, I want some of those figs smothered in melted brie...Fascinating stuff. Whoda, like thunk the original Moon Unit was some Scotsman? The Scots invented deep frying stuff, too, I've heard. Valley Girls and fries: the Scots and their ilk have a lot to answer for.

    And let's bring back liker and likest!

    1. Hey Anne,
      The Scots, indeed. You may have just uncovered the cranial effects of centuries of bagpipe exposure.

  2. Wow! So sad that we have come to dislike such a fine and usable word as "like." I too cringe at its current usage. I laughed out loud at the usage in 1886, “’What’s like wrong with him?’ said she at last.” Ha! to use "like" that way followed by "said she at last". Sounded so funny to me!

    1. Hey Christine,
      Thanks for stopping by, said he.