Overuse of “Like”: It’s Like a Big Deal

Over the past week I asked 20 people around the halls of Wheatley to answer this simple question in 30 seconds: “Do you believe standardized testing improves education in America?”, and unbeknownst to them, I tallied the number of times they said “like”. On average, the students said “like” 7.8 times in 30 seconds, and the highest result is a shocking 14 times. When I revealed each student’s results, the reactions ranged from disbelief, surprise, and doubt, to denial.

Parents, teachers, and students have all become exasperated by the absurd number of times the L-word is used in conversation. I still remember a time when I liked the word like. It was used by giggly middle-schoolers when they asked, “Do you like him, like like like him?”, or by writers who wanted to create similes to describe a picture. Now, however, it is truly an epidemic. You could even call it “a like epidemic”. *rimshot please*

Based on my experiences and observations, there are three types of people who use “like”. Number one: the timid, inarticulate, and unprepared speaker. You have probably witnessed this person first-hand or even have been the bundle of nerves sweating profusely under the intensity of twenty necks craning towards you and the stare of forty eyeballs. You were dozing off in the back of the classroom, naively thinking that your location and hoodie might make you invisible, but your teacher is all-knowing. Then you’re called upon by your aforementioned sadistic teacher to discuss the rhetorical devices used in the last three chapters you have never laid eyes upon. What do you do? You use “like” excessively as a verbal crutch because your brain can’t cow poop its way out of the scenario as fast as your mouth is opening and closing like a fish out of the water.

Number two: the skilled raconteur surrounded by a ring of her peers. Imagine something extraordinary happened to you last night, something like life-changing, and you want to tell the story in the four minutes you have in between classes. So you say, “I was like, No way! And she was like, uh-huh. So then we were like, “alright, let’s do it”. It was like totally awesome.” In some way, the use of “like” in this scenario is very effective and efficient because it can describe a host of things. Anything can follow the “I’m like” introduction from quotes (which no longer require the “I said”) to feelings to body motions.

Number three: the unconfident speaker trying to distance himself from his words. You too might have a paralyzing fear of commitment and any mention of it will give you heart palpitations. You might be the developmentally stunted person who “doesn’t want to label things” and can’t even commit to an ice cream flavor in the ten minutes it took waiting in line. Using “like” keeps you uncommitted from the implications of your words and allows for a little hesitation and approximation. You find it difficult to say, “He said”, and put yourself in the terrifying position of being corrected. Instead, you say, “He was like”, and give a statement without risking being committed or wrong.

Besides the fact that using “like” excessively makes a speaker come off as unconfident, immature, and uneducated, no matter how good his thoughts and intentions are, and distracts the listener from the true meaning, it hampers the range of vocabulary and writing skills. “Like” can reduce our everyday conversational words to just a few phrases because of its extreme versatility. Secondly, you must be able to speak well in order to write in a coherent, eloquent fashion and you can’t use “like” as a replacement for “said”. The word “like” is a staple of the English language, but the overuse of the word weakens its integrity.

So, how do you eliminate this idiosyncrasy from your speech? For, me it was about listening to others speak and noticing the extreme overuse of “like” in their language. It’s something that once you notice it, you can never not notice it. When I became aware of other people’s verbal tics and crutches, I noticed my own and made a conscious effort to rectify it. Another way is to have your friends and family point out your habit because many “like” victims are unaware of their disease. For example, whenever your little sibling prattles on about the going-ons in her monotonous life and recounts, “It was like really fun!”, you can then reply, “Was it fun or like fun?”

Now that you are aware of your own or other people’s tendencies to overuse this dangerous four-lettered word, you have every reason to put this matter in the forefront of your mind when you speak. Slow down your pace, listen to recordings of yourself, and do whatever it takes to try to like not say “like”.

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