Like, How’s Your Vocabulary?

Stop constantly saying “LIKE” and you will immediately sound smarter!

With over 1,000,000 words from which to choose in the English language, why does it seem as if the word “like” is used well like so often? Perhaps because it tops many of the lists of most overused words in present day vernacular. Many of the top entries of words that have lost most of their original meaning include awesome, really, literally, ridiculous, whatever, seriously, and nice. But like takes top honors.

This misuse and overuse of the word dates back to the 1970’s when it became popularized by California’s “Valley speak”. Many young people use the word as filler in sentences, cluttering their speech and making them sound unsure of themselves at best and uneducated at worst. Unfortunately, the word has become more of a nervous linguistic tic or a lazy speech habit.

Common Misuses
Some of the most common ways the word like is misused include, making approximations, modifying adjectives and adverbs, and before a quote. You will need like, ten dollars. Using roughly or about in this approximation would be more descriptive. It was, like, the biggest spider I ever saw. Here, the word like adds absolutely nothing and should be omitted. Yelled or shrieked could easily be substituted prior to this quote, she was, like, “get out of my room.”

“Like” is one of those words that can be used in several different ways without being misused. It can be a noun, a verb, an adverb, a preposition, and a conjunction. However, it has become so overused as a placeholder or fallback word and misused today by politicians, television commentators, entertainment figures and the like (used purposely) that it has almost become acceptable.

Vocabulary Loss
It is interesting to note that the February 2000 edition of Time Magazine reported that in 1950 the average 14-year old had a vocabulary of about 25,000 spoken words. By 1999, that number had dropped to 10,000. This is unfortunate since a person’s vocabulary reflects his or her general knowledge. We can all draw our own conclusions as to why, but my list would include texting, email, Facebook, poor education, and way less reading and writing.

One recent Saturday afternoon, a friend and I went to a Kansas City Royals game. Seated directly behind us were two cute girls in their mid-twenties I am guessing. The young ladies, more interested in their conversation than the game, used the word, “like”, so many times we were both stunned. The conversation we couldn’t avoid overhearing, went from noticeable, to amusing, to downright annoying all because of their constant overuse of the word “like.”

Consider the Customer’s Reaction
I have often noticed sales associates at retail stores I talk with misusing the word. If you are catering to a more educated, upscale, middle-aged customer, your managers and sales people should be aware of this. Few things would turn a customer off faster than to have a sales person tell them, “like, those shoes are like totally you” or “like, that dress comes in like other colors too. Should I like see if we could like, order it for you?” Without embarrassing anyone, you could get the point across by making a simple game out of it. Every time the word “like” is misused, the accused puts a quarter in a jar by the register. This idea creates awareness and the habit would get broken quickly in a fun, non-threatening way.

Most of us overuse and misuse words from time to time in our everyday casual speech. I’m not suggesting that we all need to join the Linguistic Society of America, but can we please try to find alternative words for “like”? Seriously, it would be like really awesome if we could literally do that. If not, like, whatever dude!

Posted in General Management Practices.