“Like”ability
-Fred Stock

          An evening spent with friends recently revealed a startling and ominous fact. Our children cannot speak without the similarity term, that mis-used word "like". It may be a function of their living in this day of Ebonics and in a world where about 30% of the high school graduates can actually speak the language or even read! There may be a link to the presence of foreign language(s) translations on everything from lamp cartons to official ballots, too.

          I heard this story begun by a lad; "Like, him and her were all like yellin' at each other. He was all like talkin' loud and bein' the big man, and like she was all like tellin' him to shut up." Translation, two young folks were arguing, each trying to out-shout the other. These young folks are the "likers".

          While thinking about this, I caught a speech by our President (-elect, at that time) and noticed the nervous habit he has, using "ahhh" or "umm" when he is assembling his sentence in his mind before speaking it. I realized that same cadence is often used by the likers, using that word for the delimiter between phrases. My word! No, THEIR word! The Toastmasters Club would have a field day during the Evaluation portion!

          I decided right then to take on the task of trying to demonstrate the real meaning of the phrases they had spoken. This of course makes me a snob and a pampas, overbearing #$%^@, true,  but maybe I can make a dent where their teachers had not. “Perhaps you mean, not ‘similar to him and her’ but actually the people themselves, ‘he and she’, correct? I mean, the actual people, not just LIKE the people, right?” It was disappointing to me that the first response was, “Well, like I’m all duh…?!” That word “all” comes in all too often as well. She had told him something, and his reply would be “I’m all like what-the-heck!” And he may also have meant they were actually “yellin’ ” at each other, not just something which simulated yelling, but really wasn’t that. Hmmm, maybe.

          Back in Elementary and Junior High School in Western New York in the late 40’s and early 50’s, we were required to “diagram” sentences. You remember those? Lines with slanted modifiers and connecting portions delimited by cuts and ties. It caused us to weed out the unnecessary terms, simplify phrases, make language more efficient. According to a “Straight-A” student in high school with whom we spoke, that’s no longer done. “Diagram? What’s that?”

          Now you may be saying, “If old motor-mouth is so proficient in our language, why do his sentences run on forever, and break into fragments so frequently?” Guilty as charged, but at least I know the rules I am breaking. Let’s call that “writing conversationally”, OK? “Rules? What’s that?” OOiiiiieee!

          Next opportunity to add fuel to the fire, I quietly sat as a sentence was being crafted by a young liker lad. Each “like” brought one of my counting digits to life. Two sentences into the project I needed to remove a shoe. By the end of the fifth sentence, I wanted to throw that shoe at him, but restrained myself. After all, his folks had offered us some birthday cake after the meal! And I like birthday cake. Oh no, there’s that word again! Yikes!

          I’m not really certain how to end this discussion. It seems to be a wide spread problem – just take a seat at the mall on Saturday and listen. It’s a crutch, a way to fill a hole in a sentence where the next phrase should be, but it is just short of being finished in the mental processor so there is a gap. Quickly, fill it with, “like!” And if it’s a really long pause, use “like’ twice, and slur the second one to make it longer! I just don’t know! Guess we’ll finish it this way; “So, like I’m all like that’s all she wrote, dude!” Good grief!  -fhs