Tag Archives: Linguistics

‘Like’ puts our lazy lexicon in spotlight

Image from abreezyday.typepad.com

My tenth grade English teacher was on a crusade to eradicate excess usage of the word “like.” He went out of his way to assign more class speeches and presentations to demonstrate that our minds didn’t consciously seek out the word “like.” Rather, it was a byproduct of thinking faster than you can speak or failing to find the right word and feeling that a speech should be fluid without pause.

Mr. Phillips understood the word “like” was necessary to draw comparisons between two similar objects. After all, you can’t form a simile without “like” or “as.”

Phillips was unaware of Facebook, as it did not exist when I was in high school. Had it, I believe he would have taken shots from the nearest clock tower after hearing its fundamental form of communication was a “like” button.

Perhaps Phillips hated valley girls. Maybe he was just a bitter man; after all, he was teaching English to a demographic of students who made up new words every day … none of them English. The latter seems more likely.

After his class, I consciously picked out every extraneous “like” from a conversation. I can only conclude that Phillips is a madman, because this attention to detail can drive a man insane.

I thought, at the time, kids my age would grown out of the “like” trend. Surely, with more high school education and higher education, we would learn more words as we gained more experience. After all, the adults I knew didn’t use the word “like” as if there were a daily quota they had to meet. This didn’t happen. So many people my age – early, mid or late twenties – fill the air with “likes.” Their stories are unbearable (if they ever get to the point.) Conversations with them are nonsensical and obnoxious. “It was, like, this and he was all, like, what am I, like, supposed to do?” Just get the bullet. I got your target right here.

Communication quantity, not quality

There are many things my undomesticated generation cannot do that it should be able to do. I have a cousin that filled a dishwasher with Dawn dish soap. And for some reason, the “art” of laundry eludes many college freshmen.

Communication should not be a foreign anomaly for my generation. We have more opportunity to communicate than ever before. Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, texting, office messenger communicators … even face-to-face communication. (Look it up)

There is an interesting pattern on that list, however: Nearly all of them involve a keyboard. How come I don’t read the word “like” a dozen times in a text message, but hear it in verbal communication? We only seem to be succinct when we type out what we are thinking. (I’d say write, but who has the motor skills to do that anymore?) When many of us try to speak verbally, our language becomes cluttered and gaudy.

Lazy lexicon

At a point in time, I was just like this (High school.) It ended after Phillips’ class. We had lots of vocabulary tests in his class. His theory was that you can’t become a better conversationalist if you don’t know words to help you improve and become a more efficient speaker. Again, however, students succeeded on paper where they could see what they were writing. When it come to verbalizing their ideas, out came the “likes.”

Then he told us to shut up.

Huh? We’re supposed to evolve into better speakers by not talking? Then he told us to mimic his tone and pace of conversation. Phillips was a slow talker with a smooth voice. I called him “white Morgan Freeman.” His point of advice: Talk smart. Talk like a snob (without the accent.) Slow your thought process down and your verbal skills will grow and follow in pursuit.

It worked … in his classroom setting, at least. Speeches and presentations became tolerable. Phillips seemed less homicidal.

So, please. If you’re older than 16 but talk like you’re 16, learn some new words and think about what you want to say before you speak. Not only do people turn you out and not hear what you say, but they don’t care because they associate your inability to verbalize a sentence with a meaningless sentence.

A conversation I can follow is a conversation I “like.”

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