Monday, August 4, 2014

Will the Crucifix Eliminate "Like"?

There is no language I love more than American English. Having grown up overseas, with French my native language, I felt linguistically liberated when I, a Boston-born U.S. Foreign Service brat and son of a Francophile, finally did learn English (in the fourth grade, at an "international school" in Brussels, where I did not, I hope, ruin my native French by acquiring "un accent belge," given that my earliest educational formation was at a very linguistically strict école maternelle near Paris, where I was considered -- initially, but not for long -- "un américain qui ne parle pas français.")

Instinctively, as a competitive American (even at a very young age), I beat the école at its own linguistic game, and, thanks to that challenge, years later ended up for a while as a State Department French-English interpreter (on a very minor level for a progam called "International Visitors"), which helped me get by financially in graduate school -- or so I tell myself, as I reinvent my past in my declining years.

Still, for all my love for the elasticity and anarchy of American English, where there really is no "proper" way of speaking (unless you're talking dollars and cents -- hey, that's the so-called "bottom line"; guys, let's be clear what we're talking about here), I find myself increasingly overwhelmed by the

shark-like linguistic devastation caused by the oral tic "like" in the way we Americans, especially, but not exclusively, among the young, exchange syllables (mumbles?) in our very own USA "homeland" (How I hate that Bush II word).

Today I called up a hardware store to ask about purchasing a mat for my antiquated kitchen (no secret: in order to hide whatever ends up on the floor when I pretend to cook). A very pleasant, eager-to-please, evidently young, person of the male gender (to use a non-sexist term), said that such a product was available. But every third word of his was raped by "like."

"It's, like, I'll look it up. Thank you for waiting. I'm not, like, sure of what you want." (In all fairness to him, I myself was not quite clear about what I wanted). After, evidently, checking his computer, he gave me precise information about the kind of mats were available.

In my informal interactions (another word I can't stand) with young people, their incessant use of "like" is (like?) a drill into my brain. I am (up to a point) a democrat, but if I had my way, I would, Plato-like, ban "like" from the Republic.

On the other hand, when (in a formal situation, say a class presentation), the use of "like" by bright students magically disappears (it could be divine intervention because I teach, off and on, at a Jesuit university). Thank God we have a crucifix in the classroom. It keeps, like, vamplikers away.

But once you get outta there (the airless, windowless classroom), into the "real world," to breathe linguistic freedom, get ready for far more "likes" than (some of us, the non-non-living dead -- I forget the exact category) would "like."

P.S. Of course, the dreadful use of "like" on Facebook is the subject of another confession.

Top image from, with caption: This is a scene that happened in Sharknado 2. (Syfy); bottom image from

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