21

I often see people use the noun with quotes:

We have received a lot of "likes."

rather than:

We have received a lot of likes.

Why is this done?

  • Closely related but not a duplicate Why does Facebook have “like's” instead of “like”s? – Mari-Lou A Nov 30 '14 at 15:57
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    Because, though 'like' is one of the most prolific for parts of speech, it had never been a noun up until that usage by FB. – Mitch Nov 30 '14 at 16:14
  • @Mitch: The question is about the plural "likes" as well, though. Of my many likes and dislikes, I list the premature assumption that something has never been done before among the latter ;-p It's true that singular "like" as a noun was pretty rare before Facebook but I expect without checking that OED will have found and cited it. Any example I can think of sounds artificial. – Steve Jessop Dec 1 '14 at 13:55
39

Usually I see that in cases to divorce the action of clicking Like on facebook from meaning a person truly likes the topic at hand.

Consider a posting of a tragedy. Many people may click Like, not to imply they enjoy the tragedy, but to raise attention to the situation.

In other cases it might be the author just isn't familiar enough with the platform to identify it as a first class object as to say "We have received a lot of things that are known as likes".

48

Facebook’s peculiar usage of the word like, especially as a noun, is new enough that more conservative users of the language regard it as so nonstandard or even unclean as to warrant scare quotes. Scare quotes are the typographical equivalent of the fireplace tongs that one might employ to transfer a dead bird (seen as both ritually and parasitologically unclean) from one’s yard to the trashcan. See earlier question on scare quotes.

  • 10
    I think a more significant issue is simply that many people may click "like" on things they don't particularly like, and may for various reasons refuse to click "like" on things they like. The quotes aren't so much "scare quotes" as a means of using six characters to express the concept "to click the 'like' button associated with something". – supercat Nov 29 '14 at 1:12
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    Like has been used as a noun before facebook, e.g., "What are your likes and dislikes?" – chiliNUT Nov 29 '14 at 22:13
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    @chiliNUT ... yes, but in that case the word like is referring to the conventional thing - an emotion- as opposed to an action of clicking a button at a website. The former is a like, the latter is a "like". The quotes mean "it's not really a like, just just called one". – GreenAsJade Nov 30 '14 at 5:01
  • @GreenAsJade: Well put. I did not by any means intend to imply that like as a noun was new under the sun; Ngram confirms the contrary, that nominal usage has even declined in frequency over the last two centuries, though its chronological terminus ad quem excludes much of Facebook's heyday. – Brian Donovan Nov 30 '14 at 15:49
  • @Dan Scare quotes can be acted out by curling all ten digits twice briefly with level palms vertical outward in imitation of a deadly mammal. I call this gesture “bear quotes”. – Tyler James Young Dec 2 '14 at 20:32
19

Quotes are one way to distinguish between Facebook-Like and English like, which are never the same thing, even if they may sometimes happen at the same time. That is, to "Like" something on Facebook is to click a button labelled "Like", which is not what the word "like" means in English, even if the suggestion is that you would click that button when you do like something. (Often people also don't like things they "Like", for various other reasons people click the button, such as incentives or instructions to "click Like if you agree that you hate police brutality", etc.)

This is one of the sneaky things that happens when a company uses a natural language word to mean some activity or product of theirs, rather than the usual meaning of that word. If you don't somehow indicate whether you mean you liked something, or you clicked the Like button, it's not clear what you meant. Companies tend to like and encourage this sloppy thinking, because it starts to have people think of their company even when people don't mean that.

For example: Jennifer says, "I saw a cat picture I liked today." Bob hears her and might wonder if she meant Facebook, because of the frequently-heard association of the verb "liked", even though Jennifer never mentioned Facebook.

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    I move that henceforth in all visible conversations, any person using "like" in the Facebook context to be required, by law, to use exagerrated air quotes while saying the word "like". – Michael Dec 1 '14 at 1:24
  • @Michael: You appear to have four seconds, but at the risk of raining on your parade let me point out that this is not a deliberative body. – Brian Donovan Dec 1 '14 at 17:10

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