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 (1967) & 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.”
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* -
Ahmed 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, Merriam Webster, The Hot Word, Denise Winterman’s BBC article, & Etymonline,
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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