The word 'like' is, like, not pretty

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun May 25 14:44:01 UTC 2008

The word 'like' is, like, not pretty

When my 4-year-old unleashed it, I finally realized I need to stop this
verbal tic.
By Kim Schmidt
from the May 23, 2008 edition

Champaign, ILL. - I say "like." Like, a lot.  I am a product of my times.
I cut my teeth on John Hughes movies and lace gloves. Sometimes I notice
it and try to remind myself that any self-respecting, college-educated
adult should have some respect for the English language. Add to that the
fact that I'm a writer, and a former speechwriter to boot, and you see how
easy it is to beat myself up over my verbal tic.

The worst part is that I've passed it along to the next generation. Every
parent knows that our children keep us in check, mirroring our best (and
worst) behaviors. Luckily, my 4-year-old daughter has inherited my love of
a story, my dedication to delivery. At dinner, I watch her, my proud heart
swelling, as she launches into a breathless recitation of the day's
events. And then, like a cacophony in my ears, it's unleashed:

"And then, like, Erin and I jumped on her bed. Cuz, like, her mom said it
was, like, OK."


Her arms flail to provide emphasis. "We had, like, so much fun! And then,
I was like, so tired." My ears burn and I can't hear anything but "like."
"Blah blah blah blah, LIKE, blah! LIKE, blah blah."

And so it is revealed. People are right. The word "like" is, like,

I never knew.

But what was the world like (pardon me) before everyone said, "like?" I
imagine it was similar to the world I envision before television: families
sitting around listening to the sound of each other blink. Or perhaps they
were engaged in chores. Or were furthering their mind through
contemplative reading, or improving their dexterity through cross-stitch
projects. Oh, how times have changed.

The other day, I was waiting for a drink in my local university town
smoothie shop. It is almost summer, and things are slow and lazy and most
of the undergrads have left town. In their place are the incoming freshmen
who come to tour campus and sign up for classes.

These poor kids are easy to spot. The look on their face lacks the
confidence, dare I say cockiness, of the returning students. These fresh
faces are almost always accompanied by their parents: an aloof dad
checking out the Big Ten sportswear, a mom holding plastic bags full of
textbooks, head swiveling from side to side, making a mental note to
review the legal drinking age with her darling offspring.

This day, in the smoothie shop, I'm joined by just such a trio. The mom,
apparently worried about her daughter's class load, has solicited help
from a an accommodating grad student who was innocently waiting for her
fruity blend.

"Are you sure she can handle these classes?" the mom asks as she thrusts
her daughter's freshman schedule into the grad student's hands. "It seems
like too much! Three classes in one day?!"

The grad student was very patient with the woman, and as they went back
and forth, the daughter, meanwhile, talked loudly on her cellphone (of
course) telling a friend about her schedule and ignoring her mother

"I have, like, three classes on Monday and, like, NO classes on Thursday.
But then, like, I have three classes on Friday. I so totally, like, have a
sucky schedule."

Amid the whirring of the smoothie blenders I hear my future.

Loudly again, into her phone, "Like, I know!" At that moment I vow to
speak slowly and banish "like" from my vocabulary forever. I can't
possibly continue to sound like this girl.

It's ridiculous. In so doing, I will save my daughter from this decidedly
horrible fate. It stops here.

For the love of Pete, where is my 20-ounce Blueberry Heaven? I can't take
much more.

She continued talking to her friend, and without skipping a beat, she
said, "Well, my first class is Public Speaking."

 Despite her daily assaults on the English language, Kim Schmidt manages
to eke out a living as a freelance writer.


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