Language needs liberation from helotry of like

Marianne Gosz

The word “like,” in its slang form, became a Beatnik buzzword in the 1950s and first caught the attention of linguists in the 1980s after it was popularized by “Valley Girls.” For example, it is not uncommon to hear, from females especially, “Like, oh my God, I just ate like, two whole Oreos!”

This particular four-letter word has become the bane of language purists. Consider the following statistics: There are over 600,000 words in the English language, which is more than German, Russian and French combined. The average person has 10 to 20 thousand words in their vocabulary, and in speech the average person speaks at a rate of 150 words per minute. According to class observations I have made, most people say “like” about 15 times in 30 seconds of speech. Remember, 30 seconds of speaking is about 75 words, so that means 20 percent of some people’s vocabulary is one arbitrary filler word. That’s, like, so pathetic.

As a writer and a lover of the English language, I am deeply disturbed by my calculations, and though they only reflect a sample population, I doubt they are completely untrue. Also, I would love to say that I am absolutely, 100 percent not guilty of committing the linguistic blunder that is “like,” but I’m not. However, according to a study by Temple University linguist Muffy E.A. Siegel, “like” can actually impart meaning. Unlike other fillers, such as “um,” “like” actually has the ability to change the meaning of a sentence. For example, “like” can be a substitute for “said” (Example: “I was like, excuse me!”) or it can be used to express exaggeration (Example: “I was like, so drunk!”).

So, like, all that research aside, I think you’ll find it extremely entertaining if you try to stop yourself from saying the four-letter word. It might be, like, really difficult, but consider it an investment in your future. No one is going to, like, hire you if they, like, have to listen to you, like, say “like” all the time. Further, you’re, like, wasting your linguistic potential.

Although it’s often hard to find the right words, I think it’s obvious we need to eliminate the wrong ones. That would be, like, so much better for you, me and the English language.

marianne.gosz@mu.edu