The View from Plum Lick
uh, I've got a peeve about a four-letter word. You probably know
what the word is.
Stand around a bunch of young
people for four seconds and you'll hear it. Mature people will
also be heard using it. Even teachers sometimes slide down the
slippery slope of what's generally and generously regarded as
The offending word is
Before trying to explain and
possibly understand my unrest, it should be noted that my lament
also includes a two-letter word: the normally innocent word
Since I've taught etymology
(the study of words) at the college level and have enjoyed both
notoriety and popularity for investigating obscenities-slang,
offensive slang, vulgar slang (attendance on these days was never
a problem)-I have a keen interest in "like" and
I'm, like, I don't know, and
she's, like, I don't know, either.
I go, so what do we do now?
And he goes, I don't know, like, what do you think?
Like, I'm worn out with
thinking, like, it's too much, like, trouble to speak, like, I
don't know, like, you know, it's a real, like, downer to be, like,
messed up with, like, rules.
If this usage happened every
once in a while, it would be one thing. But with many high school
students, college seniors, and even holders of Ph.Ds,
"like" and "go" have become strange and
One explanation for the
phenomenon is found on page 1014 of Houghton Mifflin's The
American Heritage dic-tion-ar-y of the English Language, 4th
edition. In a useful feature called "Our Living
Language," there's an explanation of how "like" and
"go" have, in informal speech, replaced quotation marks.
But even this becomes tricky.
For example, from The American
Heritage: "If a woman says, 'I'm, like, "Get lost
buddy!" ' she may or may not have used those actual words to
tell the offending man off. In fact, she may not have said
anything to him but instead may be summarizing her attitude at the
time by stating what she might have said, had she chosen to
Language is a living marvel
and everybody is free to add her or his own rich contribution to
it. But enough already! If the present trend continues we may be
sitting in corners with thumbs in our mouths muttering an endless
string of "like" and "go." Maybe a
"duh" every once in a while. Or a "cool."
I remember when I was a
college student (more than 50 years ago) when the five-letter
buzzword was "great." Everything and everybody was
"great." This leap forward was taken to be a sign of a
higher level of intelligence. "How are you?"
"Great!" "What do you think of this flick?"
"Great, I mean, really great!" "How's college these
days?" "Great, great, great." Some of us overcame
this unbounded optimism to a realization that there were, in fact,
quite a few things that were not so great. Some things needed
Well, along comes a bunch of
"stuff," another five-letter word that continues to
enjoy popularity. There's "geek" and
"ballyhoo" (with roots in the circus), and don't forget
"bad" (which means "good"), "twenty-four
seven" or "24/7" (all the time), and "izzard"
(as in "a to izzard," meaning everything). And let's not
forget "wazzup?" (the latest combination of words made
famous from a television commercial). There's "zero
copula" (page 2001 of The American Heritage dic-tion-ar-y of
the English Language, check-it-OUT). While you're there, take a
look at "Smith Island" (the dialect from which
Kentuckians use the word "hit" for "it").
Okay. I've started with a
peeve, but now I feel better.
Like, I'd keep on going, but
right now, like, uh, I gotta go.