August 6, 2013 On Writing and Other Tidbits Beating The Likes Out When did people start using “like” as a filler word? Once upon a time it was “uh,” “er,” or “eh” that marked the hesitation or pause in speech. These utterances still convey uncertainty and nervousness, and while they are killers in the legal and political professions, they are merely annoying and even elicit empathy from listeners. Most of us can easily place ourselves in the proverbial hot spot, struggling for the right word, losing our place midsentence. Even non-stutterers stutter sometimes. I know I do. Then there came “you know.” This filler is aggravating unless, of course, a close friend is actually wondering if I empathize with his or her experience conveyed. I sometimes use this two-word filler by accident, though I try to catch it when it slips out in conversation. I check myself and make certain that in fact, I do wish to hear my companion’s opinion and am not just pulling him or her into a windy diatribe or simply making sure I have full attention. For I recognize that I don’t want to be intimated in every scenario or to be forced to offer an opinion, so surely others don’t either. “You know?” No, I don’t and wouldn’t wish to conjecture. Now I am finding myself embracing the newer version after watching The Wire. “You feel me?” may be street lingo, but it somehow evokes a sense of camaraderie. I like that one, but it makes most people confused when I say it. Then there’s “like.” I cringe every time I hear this poor word that has been browbeaten to a nauseating death. For I like “like.” I use similes (a type of metaphor) occasionally in my writing and enjoy it in others’. Oh, it can be overdone, for example, by famous authors who use it to make inanimate objects have living characteristics like a cyclone that twirls like a phalarope, spinning and pushing its prey upward to feed. Of course, this is my simile, but my point is that some objects can and should be like themselves and not something else. A cyclone is a cyclone. Similes and metaphors can be so tiring. The following examples use “like” correctly: “I need to go like [as] my mother told me.” (“Like” is a subordinating conjunction.) “It is a view like [as] nothing you have seen before.” (“Like” is a preposition.) “Read books like [such as] Prodigal Summer to get a sense of Southern literature.” (“Like” is a simile.) But in the case of the examples below, “like” is abused as colloquial quotatives rendering them pretty much worthless: “Like this is the best thing like I have ever seen. Like you won’t believe it.” You might say, “Wait! Smart people talk like that sometime!” I can only reply that sounding like an airhead is a dangerous habit that should be broken. You might entertain other animated listeners, but using “like” as a filler word will get you nowhere in the job market and will mark you as undereducated or just plain nervous. You feel me?