Right now, I have an hysterical aversion to the word ‘like.’ Unfortunately, it’s, like, the only, like, word that’s, like, in, like, my brain right now, like, not even kidding.
The girl sitting behind me on the bus told a story to her friend. During the course of the story, which took about twelve minutes, she used the word ‘like’ improperly one hundred and four times. [I counted. On my fingers, even, so that I would not lose count.]
And I am totally the jackass who turned around just before getting off the bus and said to her directly, “Do you know that you just said the word ‘like’ one hundred and four times? Just saying.”
Let me be frank. The English language drives me up a freaking wall. It is my native language and I do not believe I’m terribly good at speaking it. English is an absolute bear. It’s difficult to learn, there are more exceptions than there are grammatical rules, letters get in each others’ way and trip the tongue, and no two people speak identical dialects with identical jargon and identical accents. And then there is formal English, which most people seem to have forgotten exists, and then there is proper English, the Queen’s English, which many Americans don’t realize is at all different from American English until they watch that last Austin Powers movie. I’m sure there’s also some form of courtly English, formal proper English, spoken by the Master Herald in the Queen’s Court.
Acknowledging all of that (and honestly, I will rant and rave about English to anyone who makes the mistake of making eye contact), I cannot abide people who make me ashamed of my native tongue.
Just because you are “young,” just because you grew up in the 80s or 90s, does not mean you have to sound like a skipping record. [Oh, look! I just used the word ‘like’ properly!]
‘Like’ can be a very powerful word. It can mean that you have a special interest in something. It can show that you’re fond of someone. It can signal that a simile, an absolutely magnificently useful part of speech, is about to enter the playing field.
BUT. ‘Like’ CANNOT properly be used in place of “I said” or “I did” or “he is.” Neither can it ever be anything less than redundant and jarring when used as like a verbal representation of like a like comma like for dramatic effect and stuff.
I was born in the 80s. I grew up in the 90s. I have a terrible tendency to use the word ‘like’ incorrectly. However, and this is a point I particularly want to stress,
I DO NOT ALWAYS SOUND LIKE A RAVING MORON.
[I used it properly again! I’m on a roll!]
Yes, I will admit to recounting stories to people like they actually have a clue what I’m talking about. [Streak broken: this is not precisely correct usage.] I hereby own up to the myriad times I have repeated conversations where I was like “Whoa!” and my friends were like “Cool!” and the street performer in Harvard Square was like “Ta-DA!” [Oh GOD, the rapid succession repetition is killing me right now, even though sometimes when I’m worked up or excited or loopy or whathaveyou, I barely even notice it.]
I can pinpoint exactly when this happened to me. I was in my sophomore year of high school and I decided I wanted to be a little more like the popular kids. [Whew! Back to the rules!] I watched “Clueless” and other teenager-themed movies. I read Seventeen. The one thing I did not do was listen to pop radio. [Hey, man, all teenagers are clinically insane but at least I had some standards. Those movies and magazines and other stuff…that all amounts to a lot of hours of my life which I truly wish I could do over.] One of the terrible, awful, hateful habits that I picked up in my misspent youth was ‘like’ and I have regretted it ever since.
I’m all like, IT IS MY NEMESIS.
Even doing it for effect, it’s still wrong. Being “all” is incorrect, too. And so is beginning sentences with the word ‘and’ but I made a conscious decision when I was sixteen (sitting in my AP English class with the single greatest teacher and role model I have ever had the good fortune of encountering) to develop the word ‘and’ as a particular facet of my personal writing style. Please note: I do not use it every three words. I do not even use it every three sentences. [Well, okay. Sometimes I do, but it is always a conscious stylistic decision, NOT verbal diarrhea.]
What I mean to say is this:
Learn to speak English like a reasonably intelligent adult.
[Look! Look! I did it again! It truly is possible! And with this easy once-weekly patch, you too can blahblahblahblah…!]
People who say ‘like’ every second or third word make my ears feel as though they’re bleeding. Something in my brain begins to atrophy with each iteration. I have to fight the urge to whirl around a punch whomever is destroying what is already a particularly recalcitrant language right in the stupid, sputum-producing mouth. I have been known to so fervently wish for lockjaw to strike down unknowing passersby that I must confess I’m somewhat amazed that I haven’t yet been smitten for evincing gross malice toward my fellow man.
There is the kicker: free will. Free speech. Freedom of choice and action and the right to be completely and utterly ignorant. You, stranger, have the right to say ‘like’ one hundred and four times in the span of twelve minutes. Just remember, though, that I have the right to point out to you that you are being completely, utterly, irredeemably asinine.
And I am not afraid to exercise it.