"Are you trying to tell me something?" I asked my pre-teen grandson.
"Um, uh, yes."
"Then don't use that word. You know how I feel about it."
And the conversation proceeded from there, unimpaired by repeated insertions of "like" into every sentence, as in, "I, um, like, wanted to go to like the soccer game but like I wasn't like able to because like I had to stay home and like do my homework."
I will tolerate repetitious misuses of "like" when I'm talking with a person with whom I have no interest in relationship (e.g. a salesperson, albeit I file the conversation under "Try Not to Patronize These Places of Business") but I will not tolerate even one such misuse with my grandchildren.
Why? Because I care about my grandchildren. I want them to have every advantage in life, and one such advantage is the correct use of language in speech. There is a simple reason why one does not hear physicians, lawyers, ministers, public speakers, politicians, CEOs, small business owners, corporate-level salespersons, talk-show hosts, or loan officers peppering their speech with the misuse of "like," and the simple reason is that such peppering sounds immature, ignorant, and uneducated. It is also highly annoying to anyone who speaks correctly.
During a recent airplane ride from Phoenix to Charlotte, N.C., I was forced to listen while the young woman directly in back of me told her life story to her seatmate for the entire four-plus hours.
Said autobiography featured the word "like," misused at least 4,356 times. She like did this and then she like did that and then like this happened and then like that happened and then her like parents did like such-and-so and her like friends did like such-and-such and like like like like like like like another 4,341 times, all in a voice loud enough for half the plane to hear.
By the way, she identified herself as a senior in college. Does she talk that way in class? Do her professors, consumed with the need to be liked (No pun intended, really, but it was a good one, eh?), not correct her?
The problem is that this mannerism reflects a lack of proper thinking. If one is thinking properly, one speaks properly. Conversely, when one is not speaking properly, one's brain is not working properly. And be assured, it is possible, as this tale illustrates, for the brain of an intelligent person to not work properly.
Every generation develops its rituals and badges of membership. Mine did, for sure, and to fit in I most definitely acquired them. But all I had to do to appear normal to potential employers was cut my hair and stop wearing sunglasses indoors. Looking like Peter Fonda in "Easy Rider" was not a bad habit I had to struggle to break.
I know that the repetitive misuse of "like," starting in pre-adolescence, is going to be an extremely bad habit to break because it quickly develops into an involuntary vocal tic. I see that potential in my grandson. I want him to enter adulthood with every possible advantage and as few liabilities as possible.
Which is why I won't tolerate it. Every loving parent, grandparent, and teacher should be so intolerant.
John Rosemond, a family psychologist, can be reached via www.rosemond.com.