plate with forkWritten by a professor to professors, this article, “Diss ‘Like’” (Ted Gup, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/8/12), eloquently explains why usage of the verbal filler “like,” and perhaps worse, our general acceptance of it, significantly harm all of us.

The fine piece certainly is worth reading in its entirety. Notable excerpt:

“[Like] is a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card, relieving the speaker of accountability. It tells students that the world is so intrigued by what they have to say that it is willing to clean up after them, to sift through the verbal refuse for the nuggets concealed within.”

As an English teacher myself, I’ve noticed a common retort to such arguments: “who cares?” But to dismiss this criticism of flabby, inexpressive language with a shrug is, it seems to me, to be complicit in the erosion, or “corruption” as Gup says, of language as a whole.

One could argue the erosion has been happening for awhile now. The extraneous “like” has been a problem since at least the early ‘90’s, when my own high school English teacher interrupted an offensive “It’s, like, really hot outside” with “Is it LIKE hot, or is it INDEED hot?” Prof. Gup in his article explains that he notified his students of their uttered “likes” by holding aloft a “LIKE” sign at each offense. Both methods call attention to use of verbal fillers on the spot, and emphasize slowing down and thinking about what we’re saying: that is, speaking with deliberation. Don’t expect the listener to “clean up after you,” as the quote above has it. This idea, of course, also applies to written expression; as Strunk and White’s venerable Elements of Style says about writing a paragraph,

“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

So this year, consider working toward making your communications more concise and eliminating bad habits from your speech. A well-spoken college graduate more easily commands attention and, perhaps, credibility and respect; and speaking with grace and purpose is a significant personal accomplishment as well as a valuable, versatile life skill.

Image via / gleangenie