This is one of the first recorded appearances of this kind of usage, or at least the earliest that we could dig up. Even in the cartoon’s context, it seems unwieldy and out of place, not quite settled into the collective consciousness yet.
The Beats in the 1950’s
Like that’s your reality, man. The Beats were notorious for their laid-back, stoner style lingo, all hip to the jive and whatever. For better or for worse, they pushed the use of “like” — albeit in a particular usage that is not common in casual speech anymore — to a greater prominence.
Maynard G. Krebs, on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, 1959 to 1963
Maynard was American TV’s first beatnik, and what an over-exaggerated beatnik he was. If this was ever an accurate portrayal of beatnik speech, which we rather doubt, we’re happy to report that most people have scaled back since then.
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, 1962
This is one of the first uses of the word in literature, as Burgess’s evilly hip Droog spits, “I, like, didn’t say anything.” Again, the word seems a little intrusive, but we’re getting there.
Shaggy in Scooby Doo, 1969
“Like, wow, Scoob!” As far as we can tell, Shaggy’s manner of speech was half in jest and half a pretty fair attribute for his character. They did drive around in that van after all, and everyone knows what went on in there.
Frank Zappa and Moon Unit Zappa, “Valley Girl,” 1982
By this time, the trend was widespread enough that the cooler-than-cool Zappa family deemed it worthy to mock:
Like, oh my god! Like – totally Encino is like so bitchin’ There’s like the galleria And like all these like really great shoe stores I love going into like clothing stores and stuff I like buy the neatest mini-skirts and stuff Its like so bitchin’ ’cause like everybody’s like Super-super nice… Its like so bitchin’…
Valley Girl, 1983
This film, loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, proves that people who say “like” are people too — and even further, worthy of love from Hollywood punk Nicolas Cage.
Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Baby Got Back,” 1992
Just so everyone knows that the Valley Girl moniker is only for stereotypical white girls: “Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt. It is so big. She looks like, one of those rap guys’ girlfriends. Who understands those rap guys? They only talk to her because she looks like a total prostitute, ‘kay? I mean, her butt, is just so big. I can’t believe it’s just so round, it’s like, out there, I mean – gross. Look! She’s just so … black!”
The quintessential Valley Girls. Clueless was one of the most potent Valspeak touchstones for ’80s babies, purely because of its ubiquitousness and of course, classic status. Cher in particular singlehandedly elevated the Valley Girl with her sweet demeanor and how she totally schooled that one girl on Hamlet: “Well, I remember Mel Gibson accurately, and he didn’t say that. That Polonius guy did.”
Legally Blonde, 2001
Legally Blonde‘s Elle Woods is basically a slightly older, more exaggerated version of Clueless‘ Cher — only with a tiny Chihuahua and a greater affinity for all things hot pink. In one of the film’s pivotal scenes, Elle’s ex-boyfriend Warner Huntington III is surprised to see that the former president of Delta Nu has been accepted as a student at Harvard Law, to which she deadpans, “What? Like, it’s hard?”
The Hills, 2006-2010
The most famous “real” Valley Girls. Of course, they’re still being mocked, but for all intents and purposes they sound like normal (insanely privileged, reality TV star) girls, and appear to be speaking without any trace of irony. Even the mocking sounds a little overdone — they’re being drippy, we get it. Just tell us what Spencer said!
Jersey Shore‘s Ronnie and Sammi on Jimmy Kimmel Live, 2011
Perhaps showing the word come out of the mouths of the insane cast members of Jersey Shore isn’t a good indication that the usage is truly widespread, but consider the fact that Jimmy Kimmel uses “like” at least as many times as Sammi. The conclusions you draw from that may depend on your opinion of Jimmy Kimmel, but we think it’s fair to say that the term has penetrated at least a few social levels.