Once upon a time several generations ago, a mother asked her son to sit down so that she could talk to him. She began by saying, “Timmy, there are two words that you use excessively and I think you would do well to drop from your vocabulary. The one is swell and the other is lousy.”
“Alright, mom,” her son responded. “What are they?”
Perhaps every generation finds words to which we gravitate and use to excess. The words “awesome” and “dude” come to mind. But in this humble writer’s opinion, the biggest offenders of our time are “like” and “yaknow.” (I have consulted all three of the dictionaries I own and while I cannot find “yaknow” in any of them, the way I hear this being used I’m sure that it’s adherents think it is one word).
About three months ago I had the experience of having dinner with some neighbors and their mid-twenty year old son. The young man holds a responsible position and is a graduate of a very fine and expensive private college for which his parents paid his tuition.
As we sat eating our meal, I couldn’t help notice how the words “like” and “yaknow” found their way into every sentence he spoke – sometimes more than once. Perhaps the rules have changed since I was taught English. It is apparently now a requirement that a sentence must begin with the word “like.”
Some time ago I purchased one of those little (smaller than a cell phone) tape recorders. My plan in acquiring it was simple. It would be a convenient tool to have to capture those great thoughts that run through my head – before my nine living brain cells dropped them and they disappeared forever into the universal ether.
The problem with this is that great thoughts occur to me so infrequently that I am seldom near this little device when I need it. And because I use it so infrequently, on the rare occasion that I have it when that Eureka moment comes, I usually don’t succeed in recording my great idea but instead wind up deleting a previous one in error.
But I wish that I had it with me that night at dinner. I would have loved to record this young man’s conversation – and played it back for him to hear. In the course of an hour or so, I would guess that he used those two words at least several hundred times each. Oh, did I mention that his degree from this very expensive private school was in Communication?
If there was one positive thing that I took away from this evening it was that I gained a higher respect for some of the NBA’s superstars whom I had seen interviewed. Previously, I had thought they were the poorest communicators among us – but I now believe that their lead in this area is in serious dispute.
No doubt there are several reasons for the way this man, and countless others, maul and malign the English language. Some of the blame must be laid at the feet of the educational system. But I think that there is another cause in our interactive world – and that is the social media and networks.
We have become so accustomed to seeing (and responding to) a “LIKE” button wherever we wander on the internet, that the word has indelibly etched itself into our consciousness. This, of course, naturally translates into our speech. So I have a proposal to offer which might set us on a higher course in the use of our language.
We replace the “LIKE” buttons with “LITE” buttons. In a world where the only way you can really sell something is if it has a nifty acronym, “LITE” would stand for, “Like It’s Truly Exceptional.” Knowing what the acronym means would allow our “Like-dependent” speakers to wean themselves gradually off the word – in the same way that a nicotine patch is used to reduce a three pack a day smoker’s need to continue her habit.
I’m sure that in both cases the process would involve some pain and anguish – but it can be done. (That’s the optimist in me speaking).
I have re-written the first sentence of the second paragraph of The Declaration of Independence as it might have been constructed had my young dinner companion been its author:
“Like, we hold these truths to be like self-evident yaknow, that like all men are created like equal, that they are like endowed by their Creator yaknow with like certain unalienable like Rights, that like among these are like Life, Liberty and like the pursuit of Happiness, yaknow.”
Like yaknow, I believe that my suggestion has some like merit to it. What are your thoughts?