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Like, the art of totally proper English

The simple, declarative sentence may soon end up on the endangered-species list.

By Jim Hoag / March 12, 2009



"Remember, no matter where you go ... there you are."

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Even if the phrase does baffle, or cause more than a little bewilderment, you have to admire its directness and simplicity. It's clear, to the point, and uncluttered.

This quote from the movie, "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension" was carved into the pantheon of great film quotes at a time when the Valley Girls of southern California were a happening phenomenon. That peculiar subculture of the mid-1980s – spawned from the San Fernando Valley, with its distinctive fashion, hairdos, and peculiar patois – has since faded from the cultural landscape. But it has still left its mark on our native tongue.

Fortunately, "gag me with a spoon," "gnarly," "fur shur," and "grody to the max" aren't typical in polite conversation these days. Unfortunately, though, some of their cousins are still gumming up the conversational arteries of the English language. Words and phrases such as "totally," "sort of," "kind of," "and everything" – not to mention the No. 1 offender, "like" – litter some conversations like taco wrappers on a dusty Burbank back road.

While many of us still sprinkle our statements with occasional "uhs" or "you knows," I've noticed, as the father of teenagers, that the word "like" has taken on a life of its own with teens and the 20-something crowd. The simple declarative sentence, it seems, may be in danger of extinction. Or at least it belongs on an endangered-species list.

For instance, someone may say: "I'm, like, you know, totally bored with, like, homework and everything. It's like, so annoying and stuff."

What's wrong with, "I hate homework?"

Listeners must also suffer through pauses placed randomly throughout sentences that are broken into segments, and intoned at the end of each phrase as if the speaker were unsure of your ability to grasp the meaning.

"I was at soccer yesterday? (pause) and this girl? (pause) on the other team? (pause) she, like, is pushing me? (pause) and I'm like, you know, what's your problem? (pause)."

The pauses must be meant to add dramatic effect, perhaps because the speaker senses that what's being said is ultimately boring without them.

I have two teenage daughters, and after coaching youth soccer for years, I'm used to listening to rambling descriptions of school, teachers, pets, and siblings. I often drive my older daughter, Rachel, and her soccer pals to and from their games and practices. This requires sainthood, for which I am not particularly qualified. Imagine a 40-minute drive while three or four teen girls are waging high-pitched, dueling conversations.

Rachel has one friend who can't get through a two-word sentence without using the word "like." And I quote: "Like, I'll like ... call ... like ... later ...like ... tonight."

After returning home from that drive, I cautioned Rachel about using these words in a conversation. She had heard this before. I looked over at her sister, Sophie. "Do you understand what I'm trying to say here?" I asked.

"Totally," Sophie answered. This prompted me to remind her that "completely" would do nicely, and has been serving mankind competently for centuries.

"All I want is for you to try speaking more concisely, without all the 'likes' and 'stuffs' and 'everythings.' If you speak that way when you're older, people will think you're a refugee from reality TV. Is a simple declarative sentence too much to ask?"

As Rachel left the room, she patted me on the arm, smiled, and said, "Dad, chill."

I hesitated for a moment, then turned and called after her, "Thank you."

Like, you know, even little victories count. Totally.

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