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The Awful “Like” Word – Part I

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  Ed Good  —  Grammar Tips
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If you have a “like” habit, the time has come: Break it. Many people cannot make it through a single sentence without scores of “I’m like” and “She was like” and “She’s all . . . .” For good measure, they throw in the like word as adjectives, adverbs, and indecipherable constructions.

Substitute for Thought

Like every generation before it (in the ’60s we used ya know a lot), the youth of today have devised their own expression as a substitute for thought—a new verb, tobelike, spelled just like that, spoken just like that, as a single word, often joined permanently to its subject.

We can conjugate this new verb. In the present tense, “I’mlike.” In the past tense, “Iwaslike.” On the subway once, I heard a young “professional” say in the future tense, “I’llbelike.”

Introducing Quotations with the Like Word

Usually, people use tobelike to introduce quoted sources. In that form, it doesn’t harm the language too much or totally prevent thought from taking place. We can hear entire conversations, peppered with the verb tobelike and gobs of likes thrown in for good measure, and come away at least marginally informed.

Thus, a law student might describe his experience in class to a friend this way:

My professor waslike, “Does the Bill of Rights apply to the states?”

And I waslike, “In most cases, yes.”

And she waslike, “Well, when do these rights not apply?”

So I waslike trying to remember the case law, but she waslike rushed for an answer so she like went on to like the next guy.

The student manages to convey some meaning. But he cannot look forward to any awards for elocution.

A Ubiquitous Word

Sadly, the verb tobelike and other variations of the like word do more than introduce quotations. They pervade many people’s speech. They threaten the language—and therefore thought itself. Tobelike and like often require the “speaker” to resort to wild gesticulations of hand and arm, accompanied by guttural grunts and groans.

Thus we might hear two young “professionals” share the hardships of the day:

He: “I’mlike up to here.” (Hand and forearm, parallel to the ground, rise to level of eyebrow.)

She: “Like yeah.” (Heel of hand, with fingers curled to back of head, strikes center of forehead.)

He: “Like yesterday waslike, ‘Ugh!’” (The theme begins to develop.)

She: “I’mlike, oh well, you know.” (Gentle but rhythmic nods of total understanding.)

He: “So you’llbelike, with it.” (Presumably a question denoting sympathy.)

She: “I’mlike . . . you know. What EVer.” (Mutual nods of assent to newly shared precepts.)

Perhaps I exaggerate. But I do so to make a point: If people talk this way, quite likely they will find writing even more difficult. One trend I have observed: People with the like habit overuse the verb to be in their writing. They simply cannot write a sentence without saying “something is this” or “something was that.”

When I teach on-site courses in effective writing, as an exercise I urge the participants to write and speak at some length without using the verb to be and the like word at all. When they try it out, they often get tongue-tied or contract a case of writer’s block. But after a while, they catch on to the magic of speaking without thought-stopping expressions and of writing with verb-based prose.

Parents, Take Note

Parents might try the exercise out on their children. Bribe them. Put a $10 bill on the breakfast table and challenge them to make it through a second helping of waffles without using the tobelike verb and without misusing the like word. Up it to $100. Your money’s safe.

Next Week

Tune in next week. We’ll look at the like word and see how it acts as seven out of the eight parts of speech.


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