Sunday, April 7, 2013

Why I Loathe the Word "Like"

Agony, that's what this is. Sitting on a plane, waiting for it to taxi down the runway, but it's not moving, there are six or more planes ahead of us. Meanwhile, directly across the narrow coach aisle, sits a young woman chattering to a young man. They just met. She's telling him about herself, he's nodding his head, occasionally interjecting a question or comment of his own. But it's not easy, because the young woman speaks in an endless stream of words. Unfortunately, the vast majority is only one word.


"I'm like going home to LA for like the weekend?" "I'm like a sociology major at school?" "I like speak like a little Polish because like my father is from Poland?" "I like thought it would be cool to like talk Polish with him?" 

Like like like.

I look over at Nick, who is already scrambling for his earplugs and rolling his eyes. I realize my ear corks are deep in my bag in the overhead compartment. We aren't allowed to stand at the moment because the plane will accelerate down the runway any moment. Portable electronics are also at the moment verboten. So I have only a pair of earbuds as a defense against the Los Angeles Liker.

When did a fairly meaningless word such as "like" become so endlessly, tirelessly, appallingly overused? And why do Likers also tend to speak declarative statements as if they were questions, their voices swooping up at the end? 

It's easy to blame Los Angeles for creating a generation, if not more, of Likers. I first became aware of their existence in the parody song Valley Girl in the early 1980s, about teenage girls in the San Fernando Valley. The song was followed by the (surprisingly good) movie version. 
Perhaps L.A. is the Liker's native homeland. But when the Grammar Guards were fast asleep in their watchtowers, the Likers slipped across the borders. There was no Ellis Island through which they had to file, no stern English teachers to interrogate them, find them wanting, and refuse to stamp their passports. And so, the Likers were free to spread wide and far and spawn. 

Like like like like like.

Why do people speak this way? Is it a generational thing, primarily popular among teens and 20-somethings, and people at these ages tend to speak and act as their peers do? Is it based in uncertainty? Is that why you'd say "she's, like, all mad at me" instead of "she's mad at me?" Because you're not sure she's really mad at you? Do Likers grow out of it? (Yes, please!)

The most pressing question: What to do now that the Like genie has long escaped its bottle. We have freedom of speech in this country, and amen to that. However, freedom of speech means the freedom to heavily sprinkle every sentence you speak with more  'likes' than Justin Bieber's Facebook page.

Of course, disabling the Liker temporarily can be accomplished through ear plugs or listening to music with Like-cancelling headphones. However, this isn't always practical, such as when riding a bus or train. You might miss your stop and end up in Tuscaloosa when you meant to embark in Tucson. Mentally tuning out a loquacious Liker is challenging as well, because the sing-songy intonation of their speaking worms its way into your ear canal, where it's free to tap dance on your ear drums (and your last good nerve). Invoking the "Don't speak" command from Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway is the most tempting course of action, but it's one that my Southern upbringing won't allow me to do. 

Perhaps we may politely request Likers to donate $1 to the charitable organization of their choice every time they use the word as filler. And above all, just as in the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we must be careful not to become Likers ourselves. In the past 24 hours, I caught myself using the word "like" unnecessarily--twice. And that is something I do not like. 

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  1. Gee, Jim, like, farout, ya know? Duh! like we never
    developed a lingo or heaven's to betsy a phrase to,
    like, ya know, 'splain it all! Groovie or grotty, remember that one? "You know" is far more irritating to me because of course I damned well don't know! Feel me?

    1. Ha,ha, have a good flight, wherever you are going (to).

  2. You know that the people who use like so frequently also misuse your and you're, don't know the difference between to/two/too and end all sentences in a preposition.
    Or, maybe that's just me being bitchy.

    Do you like?

    1. I also like your comments, Judi! Like, seriously. I do.

  3. Man are we a lot a- like! I hate that little thing that caught on along with 'cool' and 'dude' (what are we on a ranch?
    But think about the Beatniks? Like, really cool man.

    We didn't start the was always burning.. LOL

    I really really like your blog, though, and it is not like I have not said it before. Like it or not, you are well liked among the better bloggers.

    I grew up in La. where one said, "it is like as said", for the phrase, "as I said." Grammar slap each time I used that.

    I live in France, and imagine them saying Comme as the Americans use "like." Wouldn't work.

    I am like LOLing for real here.

    Guess we are just squares, man.

    Always a pleasure to be here, you are such a cool dude.

    1. You're, like, one cool dude yourself, man! Thanks for always adding a dash of 'color' to the comments section! Jim

  4. I like love it Jim! Classic example of the observant witness saying what so many of us have been thinking. And, of course, saying so quite well.

    Interesting sidebar: When I shared your post with a friend of mine, she sent back this recent article on an observation of what is becoming the overuse or misuse of the word "even". You might find it an interesting (if not scary deep) read:

    Cheers Jim!

    1. Thanks Steve. I wasn't aware of the 'even' misuse; thanks for the alert! Hope you're well. Jim

  5. Here in brazil we have that same problem with the word "tipo" which is used in the same way as "like"

    Your blog is very nice, I really like it!!