Sunday, August 01, 2010

Like, what are you saying?

transitive verb
1 – to be suitable or agreeable to
2 – to feel attraction toward or take pleasure in
3 – every other word out of my daughter’s mouth

I love my kids. I truly do. I encourage communication with them. But despite the fact that they are my world and I heap affection on them at every moment, I hesitate to say that I “like” them. For, if I hear that word one more time, I’m like going to scream.

I am a stand-up comedian by trade. My profession relies on audience approval. Every time I walk on stage, I hope the audience will like me. But I don’t want them to “like, like me.”

Seriously, when did the word “like,” which has multiple meanings as evidenced by the above definitions taken directly from Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary, become the most overused and grating word in the English language?

Does anybody know? Perhaps I should ask country music superstar Carrie Underwood who, during a recent Today Show appearance, talked about like her marriage and like her upcoming tour and like her charity work and like the changes on American Idol. I have always liked Carrie Underwood, believing her music and her personality suitable for my kids. My oldest, now thirteen, even met her backstage before a concert and Carrie was exceptionally gracious and accommodating. But she also seemed in a bit of a hurry. Note to Carrie: If you eliminate “like” from your vocabulary, think of the extra time you’ll have!

At some point in history, “like” burst onto the scene and refused to leave, much like karaoke. The difference is that karaoke eventually ENDS. A rendition of "Summer Nights" from Grease, sung by two fully-intoxicated women at a bar, is mercifully over after three minutes. Stories peppered with “like” seem to go on forever. If you don’t believe me, come to one of my daughter’s sleepovers, where you will be treated to dialogue like this:

“So I’m like sitting there and then she comes over and she’s like, ‘Emily, like are you going to ask him?’ And I’m like, ‘No way.’ So she’s like, ‘Oh, just do it. Like, maybe he’ll say yes.’ And I’m like, ‘You are so weird. Why would I like do that?’ And she’s like, ‘Because you’re like so that person.’ And I’m like, ‘I am not.’ And she’s like, ‘Okay, maybe you’re not like that person. But you’re definitely like THAT person.’”

The story resulted in gales of laughter and squeals from the girls. Moments after typing it on my PC, my spelling and punctuation tool exploded in frustration.

Being a history buff, I looked at some famous quotes and speeches over the years, hoping to see when "like" began popping up. I immediately eliminated the Revolutionary War era because nowhere did I ever read Patrick Henry boldly stating, “Like give me liberty or give me like death.”

Even during the Civil War, when our country split in two and couldn’t agree on ANYTHING, both sides were apparently united in their belief that “like” was not “liked” when it came to speech. Abraham Lincoln used the word exactly ZERO times in his Gettysburg Address, a fact quickly verified by the “find and replace” tool on my web browser. Frankly, I was surprised. After all, wasn’t the message of that speech about creating a unified nation? In other words, get along and LIKE each other! But Lincoln chose to use more eloquent prose and that’s probably a good thing. Somehow, the phrase, “Like four score and seven years ago, like our fathers brought forth on this continent, like a new nation, conceived in like Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are like created equal” doesn’t move me.

Fast forward nearly 100 years and still no sign of the word in our culture. When the Japanese rained bombs down on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt did not deliver the news by stating, “December 7, 1941. A day that will, like, live in infamy.”

I would have thought that "like" would have made its appearance in the late 1960s. After all, most of the country was high and unaware of what was coming out of their mouths, never mind what was going into same mouths. Yet I listened over and over to the audio feed of Neil Armstrong’s historic moon landing. Not once did I hear him say, “That’s like one small step for man, one like giant leap for mankind.”

Eventually I gave up, unable to find any historical quotes of significance peppered with “like.” Now I can’t even open a magazine without seeing the hated word in print numerous times. Journalists, in their attempts to quote subjects accurately and avoid being sued for libel, have apparently decided it’s best to include the word. A recent Rolling Stone interview with Leonardo DiCaprio netted the following quote:

“My mom always says I’m exaggerating and I’m like, ‘Mom, you are sorely mistaken.”

During a recent movie outing with my girls, we were treated to a trailer from Disney’s upcoming Tangled. Suddenly the following text flashed across the screen:

She’s been grounded like…forever.”

When I log onto Facebook, I'm immediately asked if I want to "like" everything from Chipotle’s restaurant to a sketch comedy revue called Pop Vulture. I LIKED it better when Facebook wanted to know if I was a “fan” of a particular page. Of course my daugher’s friends would have announced that they were “like fans of Justin Bieber.”

Is it possible to get away from "like?" Do the deaf use it in sign language? If so, I hope the sign is very simple – and painful. If there is indeed no sign for "like," might I suggest sticking an index finger into one’s eyeball? Perhaps that would keep deaf teenagers from using the word ad nauseum.

How can we stop the "like" epidemic? Whom do we ask? Certainly not our children, who would most likely reply, “Like huh?”

Desperate times call for desperate measures. In college I used to watch old Bob Newhart episodes with fraternity brothers and play a drinking game called “Hi Bob.” The rules were simple: Watch the show with a full beer in hand. Every time a character said, “Hi Bob,” or some form thereof, take a drink. It’s amazing how looped one can get during a 30-minute sitcom.

Maybe utterances of the word “like” should have similar consequences. Note I said similar since the prime offenders of “like overload” are not of legal drinking age, Carrie Underwood notwithstanding. But they could still face penalties. For every utterance of "like" that did not pertain to agreement or attraction, no iPod or iTunes for a week.

Somebody like alert Steve Jobs.

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