It’s, like, the ultimate weasel word. And it’s, like, really dumb to write it, President Trump.

Donald Trump tweeted that he’s “like, really smart.” Anything in writing that uses “like” in this way sets off alarm bells, because it’s the ultimate weasel word.

Here’s Trump’s series of tweets.

This is a very strange communication, especially the “like”

Former New Yorker theater critic Mimi Kramer thinks these tweets mark something new for Trump. His previous tweets fall into two categories: grammatically flawed off-the-cuff rants and disciplined, ghostwritten tweets from his social media staff. These are different. Kramer thinks they were written by someone else trying to sound like Trump, in response to the release of Michael Wolff’s book about Trump Fire and Fury.

Let’s put aside the fact that smart people typically don’t talk about how smart they are. Let’s focus on the “like.”

Plenty of us use “like” as a filler word in speaking. “I was, like, walking down Main Street when, like, this guy steps out of a doorway and bumps into me.” I’m sure you know someone — probably someone under 18 — who can’t speak a sentence without using “like” every few words.

But nobody uses it in writing.

What does it actually mean?

Grammatically, it functions as an adverb that means “sort of” or “approximately.”

Here are a few examples:

“He was, like, five feet from me,” means he was approximately five feet away.

“I spent, like, my whole paycheck on that that coat,” means I spent virtually my whole paycheck on the coat.

“It seemed as if they were, like, psychotic or something,” means that they weren’t psychotic, but were pretty close.

So translating Trump’s tweet, he’s not saying that he’s really smart — because saying that flat out would be egotistical. But he’s saying that he’s pretty close.

Like (as a filler adverb) never belongs in writing. But it turns out to be a pretty good indicator of weasel words.

“Like” is fine word as a verb (“I like to make fun of bad language,”), preposition (“Reading this stuff is like pawing through garbage”), or noun (“Toxic prose includes jargon, passive voice and the like”).

But as a filler adverb, it’s a weasel word — a meaningless intensifier or qualifier. It provides you with an out, an automatic exception.

It also marks you as a total idiot. Unless you’re quoting a speaker, you look like an idiot if you put the adverbial “like” in anything in writing, including a tweet.

It does have a use, though. When you place it before any other weasel word, the meaning remains unchanged. That’s how you know it’s a weasel word.

Let me show you some examples. Here’s the Equifax statement after the company dumped its CEO, with “like” added to the weasel words.

Mark Feidler stated, “The Board remains, like, deeply concerned about and, like, focused on the cybersecurity incident. We are working, like, intensely to support consumers and make the necessary changes to, like, minimize the risk that something like this happens again. Speaking for everyone on the Board, I, like, sincerely apologize. . . . “Our interim CEO, Paulino, is an experienced leader with, like, deep knowledge of our company and the industry. The Board of Directors has like, absolute confidence in his ability to guide the company through this transition,” Feidler continued.

See? Still sounds equally weaselly.

Here’s Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s statement after it lost its license in London:

Like all of you, I’m, like, hugely disappointed in the decision by London’s Mayor and Transport for London. It could have, like, profound negative consequences for the 40,000 drivers who depend on Uber for work and the 3.5 million Londoners who rely on Uber to get around. It’s, like, particularly discouraging that this is happening in the UK, where the team has led the way on partnerships with local groups . . .

And here’s Michael Flynn’s lawyer’s statement after he requested immunity from prosecution for wrongdoing on the Trump campaign:

General Flynn, like, certainly has a story to tell, and he, like, very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit. Out of respect for the Committees, we will not comment, like, right now on the details of discussions between counsel for General Flynn and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, other than to confirm that those discussions have taken place. But it is, like, important to acknowledge the circumstances in which those discussions are occurring. General Flynn is a, like, highly decorated 33-year veteran of the US Army. He devoted, like, most of his life to serving his country, spending, like, many years away from his family fighting this nation’s battles around the world.

The “like” makes these statements sound more idiotic, but doesn’t change the meaning.

“Like” lessons.

There are two lessons here.

First, while you can argue whether “like” as a filler adverb belongs in speech, never use it in writing. It makes you sound stupid. Yes, Mr. President, this means you, too.

And second, if you’re concerned if something you’re writing is a weasel word, try putting “like” in front of it. If the meaning is the same, you’re being weaselly. If that’s your intention, fine, but for the sake of your reputation, remove the “like” before you send or publish.

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  1. I would also say referring to television as “T.V.” and the use of initial caps could indicate a lawyer…my two cents…

  2. The general use of ‘Like’ in every second sentence just drives me nuts!!~
    Even some intelligent people use it habitually, and it seems to be creeping up the age range like a strangler fig creeping up a host tree.
    Another reason to hate the ubiquity of Facebook…… it is almost their cost free awareness advertising.

  3. I use “like” in casual writing SPECIFICALLY when I want to sound flighty, air-headed. It’s the written equivalent of, like, speaking with a Valley Girl accent.