Why does The New Yorker gotta be like that?
Radosh.net grammar correspondent Vance Lehmkuhl writes:
The New Yorker gets confused when people misuse the word "like."
For example: "I was like, 'Are you coming or not?'"
Technically, no, that wasn't what you were like, it's what you said. Sure, by saying that, it is in some small way what you were like, but grammatically, a person can't be like a quotation. Even though this is a standard colloquial usage that everyone under 50 seems to know and understand, The New Yorker pretends not to understand it at all, and demonstrates this by relentlessly mispunctuating the phrase.
In The New Yorker, the above quote would be rendered as: "I was, like, 'Are you coming or not?'" The difference is small - a single comma - but significant: 'Like' is no longer part of the sentence structure but set apart from it. In other words, with an unmistakable you-kids-get-off-my-lawn stance, the magazine is equating the "said" usage, where the word "like" is used substandardly yet functionally (drawing an off-kilter comparison between two things) with the Valley-Girl usage -- "Like, Omigod!" or "I was, like, going to the mall" -- where the word is essentially a meaningless interjection.
This is not a one-time slip, but a style rule applied consistently for years now. In the Arianna Huffington profile from The Politics Issue, though, it gets even worse: There's the typical version in a quote from Bill Maher ("I was, like, 'Oh, where's Arianna?'"), but when Arianna's talking about her attitude during her childhood -- in other words, quite literally what it was like, -- it's punctuated "It was, like, 'Oh my God, there are all these books!'"
I realize the proximity of "Oh my God" may have clouded the copy desk's vision on this one. [Ed note: Here's a more clear example from the piece: "Itís, like, This happened, this didnít work, letís move on.Ē] But The New Yorker is supposed to be, and used to be, the sine qua non of copy editing. The magazine has adopted a style rule that makes reasonable people igry and only furthers its public image as a parochial, old-World-wannabe bastion of upper-income hauteur.
It's unfortunate, because in reality it remains an excellent magazine, but this one habit is, like, abominable.