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Opinion

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 / May 23, 2008



Champaign, ILL.

I say "like." Like, a lot.

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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."

Oh.

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, annoying.

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 completely.

"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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