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Over the past few years I’ve noticed an odd trend in English dialogue that I don’t think was as prevalent a generation ago.
I say this because I think we are witnessing a shift in the way our language is used, but whether it is for brevity remains open for discussion. It certainly can’t be for clarity.
The most common new feature of our language is the peculiar use of the word ‘like.’ I’ve heard it far more often than people appear actually to be enamored of something or willing to offer comparisons. We used to say we liked various things in our lives or encountered along the way, such as a meadow of bluebonnets or a particularly tasty meat pie, perhaps a new car or the cool side of the pillow. We also said things were like other things when we genuinely believed they were, or when we wanted to help someone picture how something occurred. These were useful and clever similes and metaphors, occasionally colorful exaggerations.
Today, we seem to inject ‘like’ into nearly every sentence.
An example might be someone saying, “I’m like, so tired right now, but my boss was like, telling me I had to sweep the floor and like, make the whole place like, really shine.”
Another might be, “She asked me to dinner and I was like, ‘Duhh,’ and she was like, ‘Yeah?’ and I was like, ‘Sure,’ and then she was like, mad at me for not like, dressing up to go out.”
If we take the meaning of ‘like’ as ‘being akin to something,’ I could meet you halfway on the argument over whether these ‘likes’ were an introduction to giving an impression of how someone spoke, but frankly I think we should be more frugal in dispensing similes. After all, if everything is a simile, then reality loses its relevance.
I’ve challenged people with trying to make conversation for at least ten minutes without using the word ‘like,’ and some have found it too difficult, largely because they have been so, like, accustomed to using it that they, like, don’t even notice it anymore.
It just needs to be taken out altogether. I don’t like, like it one bit because it’s like an obstacle in the path to a clear sentence.
The next is an expression often unnoticed in conversation, and it’s the use of ‘I mean’ at the beginning of some declaration.
We’re all guilty of it. I mean, this is something we even hear on television.
Do you see how easy it is to use that one?
I suggest you stop. If I want you to say something, I’m already expecting you to mean what you say. You do not have to announce it, because it’ll make me question whether you were sincere on those occasions when you didn’t.
Finally, and probably more irksome than any other, is the use of ‘so’ when given a probing question.
Certainly, if I ask you whether the sun is shining, you’ll just say that it is. However, if I ask you to explain something, such as how a carburetor works or what happened to Aunt Betty’s bathroom window, and you begin with ‘so,’ my immediate impression is that you find my query tedious and are disregarding me in favor of telling an entirely different story. In fact, using ‘so’ when replying is the same as saying, ‘Before I was rudely interrupted,’ and even implies an eye-roll to go with it.
Adding the words ‘what happened was…’ after the ‘so’ doesn’t help your case one bit. I’m still going to think you are not only disquieted by my demand but also short tempered, reluctant to give a straight answer and likely to try pulling the wool over my eyes.
I think it’s sad that we have lost track of what vocabulary we choose and that we use such noncommittal words as fillers when we can’t think of how to express ourselves.
Having said that, I think you’ll agree hearing someone use all three of these consecutively must truly be a golden moment and would, if we have the opportunity, warrant a wet slap in the face with the aforementioned pie.