I graduated college with a B.S. in English Education, which meant that I spent most of my senior year student teaching. It was a rude awakening to find that the students at best tolerated you, and at worst, made your life hell. Looking back, I blame myself. As much as I loved and do love words, books, correct grammar and spelling, and writing papers–all this does not a teacher make.
I quickly learned/remembered that high school kids have a language all their own, which includes the words and phrases of the moment. When I was student teaching in the early ’70s, the word for anything weird, strange or out of the common consciousness was “mental.” “Mental” was used both as a noun and a verb, and it quite literally Drove. Me. Nuts. I was young and naive enough to believe that teaching the students the proper use of this sadly over-used word would cure them of misusing it, but no–it didn’t. In fact, I made the fatal mistake of letting them know just how much hearing the word irritated me. So “mental” is what I heard all day long.
Suffice to say, I never did become a school teacher. I realized that A) I really didn’t like teaching people who didn’t care if they dangled participles or sprinkled their papers willy-nilly with commas, B) I had the gut feeling that I didn’t know what I was doing, C) I really didn’t like being in a school again, but mostly D) I hated, loathed and despised hearing “mental” every two seconds of every hour of every day.
Yep, that’s really all it took to drive me around the bend–I have no tolerance for incorrect usage. I became a technical writer mostly because I love writing, editing, formatting and organizing information, but mainly because I have control over words and their usage in this arena. Were I to teach English today, the first rule of my class would be that anyone using the word “like” other than when absolutely necessary (and correctly), would be given an F for the year.
And the “like” thing isn’t just relegated to teenagers. I hear people of all ages using it as well. Using “like” is a space filler; it’s another type of “um,” “er, ” “ah” to make time to think of what you want to say. Something either is or it isn’t. If someone says, “Can I, like, go to the store?” the answer should be “Are you really going to the store, or are you just pretending to go to the store?” Again, a thing IS or IS NOT. Overuse of “like” is just as lazy as constantly sprinkling your speech with “um,” “er,” “ah, “y’know,” and so on. Plus people like me will start making a mark on a piece of paper for each repetition of the word so that they can tell you just how many times you said it.
When in doubt about using the now-ubiquitous “like,” think of this: if you can replace “like” with “as if,” then by all means, use it. Example: “He’s all, like, manly about not wearing a coat in cold weather.” Translated example: “It’s as if he thinks he is too manly to wear a coat when it’s cold.”
Ok, that said, I need to point out right here that I am far from perfect in my own speech. I’ve mentioned before that I suffer from “word salad,” meaning that I know what I want to say, but actually say something else. But I, like, do try to, like, not say LIKE all the time.