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The Like Virus

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Message Debbie Scally
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I’m, like, so, y’know, fed up with, like, how far downhill our ability to, like, communicate verbally is sliding.  It’s like, gotten really bad, like people can’t explain themselves in sentences any more without resorting repeatedly to using “like” every few words. I’m, like, at my wits’ end.

It seems that language is on the fast track to becoming a simile for communication rather than a means for real, meaningful dialogue, and it seems to be getting exponentially worse.

 Being the auditory person and English professor that I am, I tend to tune in to conversations going on around me whenever I am out and about, and I am increasingly uncomfortable with what I’m hearing.

It used to be Valley Girl Speak, but the “like” virus has spread out from California to cover English-speaking communities everywhere – even when English is the second language. It is most noticeable among young people, but it has even made its way into ‘grownup’ conversation and the business world. In place of “he said, I said,” I now hear “I was, like, and then he was, like.” In place of a true description of something, or even a correct use of the simile (which still occasionally happens), I now hear, “it was like.”  I notice that many people cannot seem to speak an entire sentence without the comforting mantra of “like.”

I know I should stop it, just accept that this is the way we communicate now, but I can’t. I should focus on things that matter, like the economy, and the war, and forget about how our free speech is turning into drivel. But I just miss the days of descriptive sentences in conversation. I miss the days when ideas were ideas and not just “like” ideas and when rhetoric was not just bloviating pundits and politicians. It has begun to make me cringe and stop listening to the conversation at hand and counting to myself how many times the word occurs in a sentence. I think my highest count is 15 so far. Seriously. (Yes, I know that’s a sentence fragment, but that’s another topic entirely, and you don’t want me to go there.)

 Are we so far out of touch with what is real to us that we have begun to see things in terms of what they are ‘like’ and not what they really are?  Has our collective vocabulary deteriorated to the point that we just don’t have enough words at our command to express ourselves when we talk to each other?  Are we so afraid of making a mistake that we are hedging our bets, even in our conversations? Do we even realize when we have succumbed to the virus, and, oh, God, I hope so, is it curable? Whatever the cause of this epidemic, there is no indication that it has stopped spreading or even mutated, or that anyone cares at all other than English professors… and even some of them have caught the virus themselves.

Maybe it’s my own personal failure to assimilate. But, whatever it is, I’m beginning to get twitchy about it all. The other day, while I was browsing in a used book store, I overheard someone ask the clerk if they, like, had any, like books on some subject. I couldn’t stop myself. I closed the distance between myself and the conversation, leaned over, and said, “Actually, they only carry real books here. They don’t have any “like” books.”

Both the clerk and the customer looked at me like I was crazy, and that’s a real simile.

I was, like, only momentarily embarrassed as I walked away.   

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I'm a college English teacher working on my dissertation. I am an anime junkie and a Shakespeare scholar, a voracious reader and a political rebel.
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