America is facing a large problem, and I am not referring to the economy or war. The word ‘like’ is misused every day. This word is contagious, and spreads quickly through the media; especially reality TV and talk shows. Those who use the word ‘like’ incorrectly, and too often, are seen as being hard to understand, or even in some cases unintelligent. This word is misused daily, and has managed to spread its way into the vocabulary of many, if not most, Americans.
‘Like’ is thought to have originated from Southern California in the 1970’s, and it was originally referred to as “valley speak.” The phrase is most often heard from young people, but it’s also heard in adults. Although ‘like’ is often times used incorrectly and too often, it is believed by some people that the word is harmless. Because the English language changes often, ‘like’ could just be another change to the English language. Also, some see it as an ‘all-purpose word, and again, it’s perfectly harmless.
Nevertheless, ‘like’ is a word that is supposed to be used to compare something. For example, if a news anchor were to say, “The intense black-Friday shoppers ran to Wal Mart’s doors like a pack of hungry wolves.” It can also be used do describe if you are fond of something, for example, “I really like your tie.” Unfortunately, people are not using ‘like’ in these proper contexts.
‘Like’ in today’s context is used in a way similar to ‘um.’ It is a filler word, and it has no purpose. What people don’t realize is that ‘like’ is not necessary at all, and often times intellectual pauses are good things. Intellectual pauses allow for the speaker to gather their thoughts, and they also give time to the audience to soak in the content. If President Barrack Obama said, “Our troops are like, going to Afghanistan and like, will do a bunch of like, good things to protect our country,” people would have a hard time understanding the president, and because of his incorrect, poor communication skills some could believe him to be unqualified for presidency.
Using this filler-word also makes people sound uncertain as they talk. When a person is ‘winging’ a speech it is sometimes very easy to tell: they may stutter, use many ‘ums’, and also use many ‘like’s. Therefore, if a person is talking about an intellectual subject, the audience is less likely to listen to them because they sound as though they are hesitant about their own ideas. So, how did a habit this harmful to communication make its way into American vocabulary?
“Probably nothing has spread the L-word so quickly as American television has. Turn on your set nowadays and see how far into the talk show and celebrity interview you can go without hearing that hiccup vocable” (Grambs, 2007). Television is the source for most information in today’s society – since it is such a large part of society bad habits are spread like wild fire. It is interesting to hear your favorite celebrity talk about their lives, so once they start talking one automatically tunes in. It is also intriguing to see how other people live their lives (reality television), and since the general American public is the culprit for this word, television helps the phrase spread.
Listening in general is how this word is spread so quickly. ‘Like’ is contagious because Americans cannot go a day without hearing it being misused. “Listening is a complex process, part mental and part behavioral” (Brydon, Scott 2008). Since people hear the ‘like’ word improperly so often, it is hard not to use it improperly. People listen to content they are interested in, and since this ‘like’ word is coming from entertainment it is easy to soak in the material.
What can people do to refrain from using the word? First, realize the word’s existence. The first step to solving a problem is realizing there is a problem. Second, know exactly how the word is supposed to be used; lastly, read scholarly literature – literature is edited; therefore there should not be many grammatical errors. So, now it is time to make a conscious effort to eliminate the improper use of ‘like.’ There are several examples of this, and many of these examples are found on the internet.
An English-teacher-in-training and writer named Nicole Dixon wrote an article for the publication Time Out New York. She, like many other people, made a conscious effort to stop using the word after realizing her problem. “At first, my like-free sentences sounded to blunt, with a new, ugly rhythm that tripped me up. Ugh. After a week, I was still slipping up about thirty times daily, but I’d identified my problem” (Dixon, 2009, para. 2).
The incorrect use of ‘like’ is mostly due to a bad habit, spread rapidly through American television sets. Often times, those who use the word incorrectly and too often have a hard time making statements, because their audience is confused by their jumble of filler words. Because ‘like’s purpose is used in the wrong context, it is meaningless and therefore has no purpose. Something that Americans can do is realize that they are incorrectly using the word, and from there make a conscious effort to fix the problem.
Grambs, D. (2007). The Like Virus. New York: Pearson Education, Inc.
Brydon, S.R., & Scott, M.D. (2008). Between One and Many. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Dixon, N. (2009). No Saying Like. Time Out New York. Retrieved November 2, 2009 from
Aaronson, L. (2009). Valley Girl Talk. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 4, 2009 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200510/valley-girl-talk