Quiet Desperation

‘Like’ is, like, not really something to, like, like


I am, like, tired of it.

More than tired. It makes me puke. Vomit. Regurgitate. Retch. Heave.

It is the extra-grammatical word “like” I am talking about. It adds nothing, it means nothing, but it says (to me) the speaker is a boneheaded, imbecilic, no-account clodpole.

It used to be the domain of teenlunkers.

But I hear it from 20-somethings and 30-somethings and 40-somethings.

Lindsey Vonn, come on.

It rarely appears in text, because we rarely write with fillers.

You might say “uh,” but you don’t write “uh.” Or if you do, it’s uncommon.

I had a college professor who said “uh” every third word. I started keeping track. One day he was up to 88, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

I did something regrettable.

I left a note in his mailbox about it. How he diminished his “wonderful lectures” (I had to add a little softener) with hems and haws.

Hey, I’m not prefect. I could be called to task by a strict grammarian all day and all night.

There’s a linguist named John McWhorter who astonishes me with his grasp of words, etymologies and meanings. He is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.

McWhorter wrote a lengthy piece for The Atlantic (Nov. 25, 2016), titled “The Evolution of `Like.’ How the ubiquitous, often-reviled word associated with young people and slackers represents the ever-changing English language.”

I’ll make reference to it shortly.

The first time I saw — and heard — McWhorter, he was being interviewed by Don Lemon after the Jussie Smollett incident.

McWhorter spoke without a script but sounded as if he were reading from one. There were no “uh’s,” and every thought flowed from the preceding one, and led into the next one.

Try it sometime. I can’t do it.

I had two impressions at the time: The man is a mastermind, for one. In person, I would fail his standards miserably, for two.

No one is that articulate. It’s unnatural.

Take Woody Allen. Please.

He hems and haws all over the place (in his films), and they are actually built into his scripts.

What does your impersonation of Jimmy Stewart sound like? Mine incorporates his actual and endearing stutter.

McWhorter doesn’t stutter.

In The Atlantic article he states, “The new `like’ is associated with hesitation. It is common to label the newer generations as harboring a fear of venturing a definite statement.”

I have heard people say they ate “like” five hot dogs. Does that mean four? Four and a half? Four and seventh-eighths? Or does it mean five?

McWhorter is a believer in the changes in language: good and not so good. He is more tolerant than I am. I want the word to go away, as it is being misused now, immediately. Posthaste.

And take “LOL” with it.

And while I’m at it: Does “literally” mean “literally” or “figuratively”?

It can mean both, but when someone says they are “literally heartbroken” they mean they are “figuratively heartbroken.”

Otherwise, it’s called death.

Pass this essay around. Faculty: Teach your children about “like.” And feed them on your dreams. The one they pick’s the one you’ll know by.

I made that up.

Like heck I did.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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