She was using the word, “like,” like a machete hacking its way through a jungle tangled with subjects and predicates. If verbs were the equivalent of jaguars stalking her and nouns the equivalent of screeching birds, it could be said that she was slicing her way through that jungle with heart pounding, trying to make her way to safety as quickly as she could.
Unfortunately her machete was as dull as the typical answer to the social media question, “What are you doing right now?” Why? Because the word, “like,” is little more than a substitute for, “Uhm,” when used multiple times in a sentence–every sentence–on and on and on until the listener just might hope that the jaguar gets her.
In her defense, I suspect that the woman I overheard chattering away at the gym was a young mother who probably spends the bulk of her day interacting with small children with vocabularies that total about fifty words. She might simply need a regular dose of adult conversation to reclaim the English language. Or not. I found myself contemplating how the next generation will use the English language if what they are getting from their mothers is a daily dose of “like” that is enough to give them verbal diabetes.
Of course, “like” is not the only word that is abused in the English language. “Awesome” is another. The view from the top of a fourteen thousand foot mountain is definitely awesome. Heroic acts can be. So can sunsets and mystical insights. But whether we like it or not, everything is not awesome. Has the overuse of the word come from the practice of trying to level the playing field for humans so much that every child gets a prize after the competition is over (whether or not her team has actually won) and every handcrafted item is called “art” (whether the crafter has talent or not)? Or is “awesome” just another machete hacking its way through the English language.
When it was suggested that there was “trouble in River City,” the culpret was identified as that deadly destroyer of morals . . . pool. The anidote offered was the musical instrument. Is telvision the new pool? If so, what is the antidote? Books? And can life really be reduced in this way? I think not.
On the other hand, I have had to turn off the television more than once to save it from the hatchet when I heard one more basketball player utter, “Know what I’m sayin’?” or “Duhyuh know what I mean?” When I began to hear those phrases coming out of the mouth of my youngest sister (who rightfully could be considered the woman on the street, though I, of course, think she’s special), I knew things were seriously out of hand.
When I heard “like” coming out of my own mouth a bit too often, I knew it was even worse than that.
I’m a professional writer and editor. Words are important to me. Words strung together in sentences that make sense and paragraphs that ring true are more tastey to me than anything the finest Denver or Boulder restaurant might provide. And sometimes a book is, indeed, awesome. I want my own spoken language to have some merit because I know that the words falling from the fingertips become compromised when the spoken language gets sloppy. I also know that when I am inundated by sloppy spoken language, it seeps into me like ground water making its way through the cracks in my foundation of words.
I’m not willing to sequester myself because I have to interact with the world to spark my internal writing mechanisms. What is a writer to do? I’m not sure. But this little post is a plea sent out as a request for mercy. Sharpen your machete and I promise to sharpen mine.
Copyright 2009 by Melanie Mulhall