OMG, I Mean, Like, Ya Know?

I understand that young people often use the word “like” as a sort of placeholder; that is, a way to pause briefly before carrying on with their thoughts.  While I know I am not the first person to rail against the overuse of “like,” I still believe it is worth pointing out to students how often they use it.

The other day I was following a pair of students as I exited my classroom. In the space of no more than three minutes, I counted a single student, talking to her friend, say the word “like” forty-seven times. Example (as if anyone needs one): “I was, like, getting ready to get gas in my car this morning? And my mom was like, I thought you got gas last night? But I was all, like, OMG, no, Mom, I told you, like, me and Kimmy were going to stop this morning and, like, get gas and breakfast and stuff so now I know I’m like late and everything?”

The beating-to-death of the word “like” is just one of my language pet peeves. You will notice that I also have all of these sentences as interrogatives, for no matter how inane or innocuous the conversation may be, it seems that students are, more often than not, ending any sentence they utter with a question. Is it fear of being wrong? Or at least leaving some room for dissent? I cannot figure it out, personally. You know?

The professor and some-time comedian Taylor Mali has a wonderful take on these language habits:

A third (but far from final) irritation (my walking student managed to hit all three bases) is the interjection of  “Oh my God!” for any situation, ranging from car accidents to dropped M&Ms.

There is a wonderful little poem by Billy Collins titled, appropriately, “Oh, My God”

OH, MY GOD

Not only in church
and nightly by their bedsides
do young girls pray these days

Wherever they go,
prayer is woven into their talk
like a bright thread of awe

Even at the pedestrian mall
outbursts of praise
spring unbidden from their glossy lips.

Students get irritated when I point these things out, it’s true. But by the end of the term, I do notice some diminishment. At least in my classroom.


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