Redundancy in the prime of ‘like’

From Muriel Spark’s novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961):

Meanwhile Miss Brodie said:
  ‘And Mrs Lloyd — is she a woman, would you say, in her prime?’
  ‘Perhaps not yet,’ said Sandy.
  ‘Well, Mrs Lloyd may be past it,’ Jenny said. ‘It’s difficult to say with her hair being long on her shoulders. It makes her look young although she may not be.’
  ‘She looks really like as if she won’t have any prime,’ Sandy said.
  ‘The word “like” is redundant in that sentence. What is Mrs Lloyd’s Christian name?’
  ‘Deirdre,’ said Jenny, and Miss Brodie considered the name as if it were new to her . . .

Like is indeed redundant in that sentence, and you could equally say as if is. There’s nothing inherently wrong with like as if, but it has too colloquial a feel for the formal register Miss Brodie encourages in her students — more “proper” speech being advantageous in conservative society. COHA shows like as if used mostly in casual language.

Note also the recurrent use of said to report dialogue. Some writers are suspicious of its ordinariness, readily replacing it with such words as replied, spoke, enquired and exclaimed, but these draw more attention to themselves and hence away from the story.

Related links:
Omit needless criticisms of redundancy
Jessica Love on quotative like

11 Responses to Redundancy in the prime of ‘like’

  1. wisewebwoman says:

    Like, I really like, like, this post.
    And from one of my favourite books yet.
    And what you say about “said” – co-incidentally I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately in a short story collection I’m working on at the moment. H’m.

  2. Marc Leavitt says:

    When I was a kid I used to read the various boys’ series such as “Tom Swift,” “The Hardy Boys,” and others. The heroes and adversaries always “expostulated, grinned, sighed, wept, implored, ejaculated, roared…”
    When I became a journalist I learned the pleasures of “he said,” with an occasional “he added.” The sense, emotion and purpose of the dialogue should be expressed by the dialogue. I’m not advocating for the banishment of expressive language, but the reader is a pretty smart fellow, and can usually supply his own understanding of the narrative without 12-foot-high signposts.

  3. Charles Sullivan says:

    Like (Facebook style).

  4. Stan says:

    WWW: It is a marvellous book, only the second Spark I’ve read but it won’t be the last. With said vs. the alternatives, sometimes another word is of course preferable for one reason or another. But I’ve read a lot of prose where it seemed said was avoided because it was plain, when that’s precisely why it should have been used more often.

    Marc: Yes, it’s more a matter of not overdoing the alternatives than of avoiding them outright. Subtlety can work wonders. Expressive verbs such as grinned and wept are perhaps more at home in children’s and teenagers’ fiction, though they’ll never compensate for poor dialogue or story. I used to enjoy the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew adventures.

    Charles: Thank you! (Traditional meaning.)

  5. John Cowan says:

    If the sense, emotion, and purpose of real dialogue were provided by the mere words, we’d-all-talk-like-robots-in-a-monotone-with-no-expression. The difference between ” ‘Stop right there,’ he said” and ” ‘ Stop right there’, he shouted” is not to be bridged by words alone.

  6. Sean Jeating says:

    Similar ‘phenomenon’ in German, behauptet (claims), meint (means), denkt (thinks) Sean.
    Well, coming to think of it he does, indeed, not say but write it. :)

  7. Stan says:

    John: Very true. Dialogue is enlivened through character, pacing, punctuation, authenticity of idiom, mise-en-scène (if we may import the expression), and so on — not to forget the reader’s contribution.

    Sean: I think you can say you said it or wrote it, or indeed typed it. You may also have spoken it, aloud or to yourself, but I wouldn’t claim this on your behalf. :-)

  8. the ridger says:

    Avoid “said” when more is needed, but for the purpose of keeping the speakers straight, it can’t be beat.

  9. Stan says:

    Exactly, Karen.

  10. …and then in some areas of Scotland, you might hear a conversation something like this: ‘So, I says to her, I says, “Margaret,” I says. “Yes, Jeannie,” she says. “Did ye hear what Effie said,” I says…’ and so on.

    But you never Miss Jean Brodie utter such a diatribe, he added.

  11. Stan says:

    I like that, Duncan. It’s exaggerated redundancy of a sort you hear from some people in Ireland, too. Adds to the character of a story, to my mind.

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