During a recent trip to work on the commuter train I was made the unwilling participant in a conversation between two young professionals (one male, one female) who, based on the topic of their discussion, worked for a downtown law firm. The conversation went something like this: (Note, names have been changed)
Male…”Can you believe that, like, Mr. Robards wants me to, like, interview his client before their court date Friday? When he told me I was all like, wow, for sure, no problem.
Female….That is so amazing. Can you imagine if he, like, asked you to join the team in court? You would be all like…what…and then like, ya, sign me up for some justice!
Male…(laughing)….Like, you know there are associates that have been with us for, like, 2 years that like, never get asked to help.
What was said after that I cannot be sure as the sounds of their voices were drowned out by my sobs as I wept for the English language. I have since wondered however if that young man was given the chance to join the legal team and further wondered if, given the opportunity, he was allowed to address the court? Understanding all of my experience of the legal system is derived from years of watching “Law and Order” and playing the board game “Clue”, I can’t help but picture this young man, well-groomed and dressed in an expensive suit, standing up and pointing at a defendant in a courtroom and yelling…
“It was like, you Mrs Peacock who, like, killed the colonel in the study with a like, candlestick wasn’t it!”
How did this happen? How did the word “like” come to be used as filler in a seemingly endless number of conversational situations? Before you answer, allow me to say that yes, I have done the research and know that while the origin is up for dispute, the overuse of the word “like” can more or less be blamed on a combination of the beatnik culture of the late 60s, to the onset of the “Valley Girl” in the early 80s. Regardless of how this started, I think most people would agree that the excessive overuse of the term has really picked up steam in the past 3-5 years…. which leads back to my question, how did this happen? Why was this word selected among the other common phrases and slang terms that have come and gone since the late 60’s?
Think about your recent conversations for a moment.
Has anyone, when suggesting it is time you leave, tell you to “23 skidoo”
When referencing a male, have you heard a friend use the term “Daddy-O”?
Has a person asked you if you understood their point by ending a sentence with “Ya dig”?
When questioning the substance of a product, has anyone in the past 20 years said “Where’s the beef”?
My guess is that for the most part; the answer is a resounding “No”. Those phrases and terms, and hundreds more like them, did what fads were supposed to do. They came, they were used and enjoyed to extreme levels, and then they went away. And if anyone tried to hang on too long with their leg warmers, headbands or greetings of “Whaaaaazzzzzup”, society did the right thing and mocked those individuals until they took the hint and let it go. Now, considering there does not appear to be an end in sight to the particular phenomenon that is the overuse of the word “like”, I think it’s time society did an intervention before we do something that cannot be undone that will forever brand us as dunderheads in the eyes of future generations.
What could that be? Well, imagine in the next few years NASA or a private company manage to put an astronaut on the surface of Mars. Picture the scene as the whole world watches as the astronaut takes those first few steps, we wait for those first words spoken. How are we going to be viewed if those first words are...
.."Wow, this is like, pretty cool."
If that is difficult to get your head around, try this one…. Looking back on one of the greatest speeches ever given in the 20th century, what would you have thought if, when addressing the house of commons in London in 1940, Winston Churchill closed his famous proclamation to the world with...
“…We shall, like, fight in the hills, we shall like, never surrender”
OK, so admittedly picturing one of the great leaders of our time speaking in a manner unbecoming of his position is difficult, but the point is we should, all of us, do our part to ensure it never comes to that.