Rant of the Word, "Like"

October 5, 2008
By Carolyn Kao, Burlingame, CA

It is a widespread epidemic. Almost every teenager suffers from it—You are not immune. It is the world famous, innocent-looking, one syllable verbal crutch: “like.” I still remember one warm hazy afternoon: I was sitting in a speech and debate class, watching a fellow classmate fidget uncomfortably in the front of the room. Our teacher had challenged her to talk about Cinnamon Toast Crunch for thirty seconds without using the word “like” as a filler. I found myself pitying the poor girl as she gasped like a beached whale, “Cinnamon Toast Crunch is …very good. I…eat it…in the morning.” She found herself blubbering nonsensically choppy sentences. “This is, like, sooo hard!” she whined tearfully. Our conversations in classrooms and hallways reveal that the Cinnamon Toast Crunch girl is not alone.

“Like” can be used in perfectly healthy sentences: “They were like two peas in a pod.” “We like reading Teen Ink.” However, most people are using “like” for other, incorrect purposes. This word can be used as a verbum dicendi, Latin for declaratory word. For example one might say, “She was like,‘I hate you!’” This shows that the speaker is not sure whether the quote is accurate, but is trying to give the audience the general idea. However, most of the time, words (or interjections) such as “um”, “like” , “uh” , and “basically” are used as filler words that strangle communication, kill a would-be-perfect oral assignment, and irritate English teachers.

Many intellects attempt to explain the human use of verbal fillers. Michael Erard, author of the book, Um… tries analyze human reaction to verbal blunders, while teacher turned Slam poet Taylor Mali’s Poems from a Like Free Zone openly uses the verbal blunders that writers usually try to avoid. Some of Mali’s poems were inspired by casual conversations held by his students. In his poem, Totally Like Whatever, You know?, Taylor Mali begs his teenage audience to overcome speech blunders. “I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you, I challenge you: To speak with conviction.” Of course, this is harder said then done. Verbal crutches seem to be especially obvious when students present projects or speeches in front of the class. Filler words pop out of our mouths when we want to cover up the awkward silence hanging over the room, or simply because we are sweating bullets. Some unfortunate individuals find themselves using “like” every other word as a hesitation device. Speech therapists would advice students with “like-itis” to take a deep breath before speaking, slow down, and try to overcome the fear of silence. Sometimes, brief silence during an oral presentation is a good thing. It allows the speaker to recollect thoughts, and at the same time allow words to sink in.
Contrary to many people with linguistic careers, Jean Fox Tree, the Conversation Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, thinks that filler words used in speech help people connect and comprehend each other better: “[Disfluencies] are not only worthy of notice, they are of vital importance to successful communication in everyday conversation.” This may be true in casual conversation, but most teachers would agree that verbal crutches will come back to haunt students in the professional world. Interview Stream, an online webcam job interview company has created a list of the top ten celebrities who use verbal crutches; so far Brittany Spears takes the lead with 73 “likes” and “ya knows” in a five-minute interview. (see http://www.ummlike.com)

Media has greatly influenced the development of the use of “like.” The word is perpetually being misused in relaxed speech, however this “lazy” way of using the word was developed during the 80’s and took off after the debut of Frank Zappa’s song, Valley Girls. About a decade before Zappa’s debut, Hana-Barbera productions introduced Scooby-Doo (1969) to children across country. Shaggy’s trademark quote, “Like ZOINKS! Let’s get outta here Scoob!” is still familiar to the youths across the country.
Over the years, the word gradually took root in our linguistic pop culture. Social norm or not, remember to take caution of the pestilential word: “like” and fight the epidemic—You can do it! Next time you open your mouth to utter “like”, take a while to ponder the significance and your reliance on the lovable (and detestable) word. Or you may shrug your shoulders and say, like whatever.

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This article has 2 comments.

on Jun. 10 2009 at 6:03 pm
morgie7<3 PLATINUM, Tremont, Illinois
34 articles 0 photos 93 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
~Michael Jordan

I am chuckling to myself as I read this, both from thinking about my own tendency to overuse the word 'like' and Britany Spears using the word so frequently in her interviews. Reading this has helped me look at some different viewpoints from different authors, such as yourself. I agree...and i really need to stop saying it! The challenges 'like' not using the word 'like' are VERY VERY difficult for me. It's not that I'm a really snobby and gossipy person, that's just how I talk! Thnx so much...you've showed me where I can approve! excellent job!!!!

on Oct. 16 2008 at 8:27 pm
I agree with you completely. I have many times ranted about the overuse of the word "like". It's a bad habit comparable to biting your nails, you don't notice you do it.


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