Are You, Like, Ready for This Blog?

Are there still Valley Girls in Southern California?

If so, and if they happen to read this blog, I apologize for any feelings I might hurt.

My message is about the still-pervasive, irritating, distracting use of like long beyond the time and far beyond the geography from which it originated.

A colleague recently sent me an article from The Wall Street Journal titled “The Tyranny of the Exclamation Point Is Causing Email and Text Anxiety.”

We know that the exclamation point serves to show excitement, enthusiasm, joy, astonishment, fright — any strong emotion.

With email and texting today’s primary communication channels, we have emoticons, emoji — and good old-fashioned punctuation — to make up for the lack of emotion or mood in our messages.

WSJ writer Katherine Hindley examines not just overuse of the exclamation point; she considers whether the absence of an exclamation point can leave a message sounding flat, dry, or even demanding.

Because I cover use of the exclamation point in chapter 40 of my book and in this blog, the WSJ article truly was of interest to me. However, it didn’t take long — the third paragraph — for me to become so distracted by the unnecessary use of like that I lost track of the original topic.

Here are statements by people Hindley quoted:

“She was like, ‘You’re not your normal, cheery, bubbly self …’”

“I was like, maybe I should be more standardized in what I use …’”

“I called my boyfriend and I was like, ‘This is it. I just lost my job.’”

And then there was this:

“lf I’m explaining something and there’s four different thoughts, and every one of them is followed by an exclamation point, I’m just like, this is ridiculous. But then it’s like, which one do I remove?”

The last quotation hit three of my grammar pet peeves:

  1. the unnecessary and distracting use of like
    (People interviewed were not Valley Girls; the last speaker was a 41-year-old male.)
  2. the use of the contraction there’s (there is) when it should be there are
    (Four thoughts requires the plural verb are: there are.)
  3. the redundancy of four different thoughts
    (If the speaker had not specified four different thoughts, would we have assumed he had meant four of the same thoughts? Hardly.)

Overuse of like has roots in the 1970s, when a persona known as a Valley Girl emerged. To demonstrate the longevity of like, consider what The Atlantic wrote about the “crutch word” like six years ago, when the ubiquitous use of like was already over four decades old:

Are you a teenaged girl who smacks her gum a lot while talking and, like, OMG, can you believe you said that? Like, yes, you did.
(See also, “She was all … and I was all … and he was all …”)

I thanked my colleague for sharing the article on exclamation points. My appreciation was sincere, but I paused to reflect that when compared with the distracting statements of the people quoted, concern about exclamation point use lost significance.

And it wasn’t the writer’s fault: She was quoting people in the business world exactly as they had spoken.

We’re judged by the way we write and speak. I doubt that anyone reading this interjects like in emails and other written communication. Let’s also try to avoid it when we speak.

Are there “crutch words” that make you cringe? Share a comment in the section below or send me an email.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

2 thoughts on “Are You, Like, Ready for This Blog?

  1. Boo

    I formerly taught senior high school English and History. My attempt at solving the “like” crisis was a penalty of one penny per “like”. The first year we netted enough to purchase a variety of pizzas for the senior class. The send year we purchased enough pizza to have it delivered to our school and another high school. By this particular classes’ graduation, the Likes were reduced to two a day. Perseverance was the key. Thank you for battling this particular unfortunate change in our language.

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      What a creative way to make students more aware of their “likes.” Tackling this problem at the student level could go a long way toward curbing for a lifetime the excessive use “like.” Thanks for sharing; I hope others are inspired to try it, whether in the classroom, at home or in the workplace.

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