I guess this could be another "you know you're getting older when" gag, but I've had a few jarring experiences centering on the slang use of the word "like" as a placeholder syllable, an intellectual throat-clearing "ahem," lately. I've never, like, liked this usage and always found it pretty, like, irritating and, like, stupid, even when it wasn't used by the educated and the erudite, also known as people who should, like, know better.
Lately it has bothered me even more, though. At a meeting earlier this week I heard it repeatedly coming from a, let us say matronly-looking, woman, a true Mrs. Claus type with the requisite white hair and little spectacles perched on a sharp and pointy nose one expects to see peeping over a complex bit of knitting, say, or a tray of freshly-baked cookies. The speaker was engaged in no such activity, mind: on the contrary. She was vigorously debating a point of policy with a group facilitator, also a woman of a certain age, whose every look and move and point of address and attire bespoke a certain manaical care lest someone mistake her for that certain age, her real one. And oh, did the "likes" fly, and never once when employed in anything remotely resembling a simile or comparison of any kind.
In my own existence, my first exposure to this version of "like" occurred in early childhood, when icame out of the mouth of a cartoon character: Shaggy in Scooby Doo, the cowardly, perpetually snack-hungry, squeaky-voiced hippie of the gang. It sounded uniquely appropriate coming from him, slightly dated, vaguely ridiculous but still in some way "hep," in no way a signal to take him seriously (his identity as a pot-smoker, a "stoner" did not dawn on me until I was myself of an age when Scooby Doo was a show devotedly watched by ones college chums while they partook of similar substances).
Slowly I started to notice the occasional real person, like, saying it that way. Suddenly, it was, like, everywhere. And this was BEFORE good old Moon Unit Zappa paired up with her daddy to make the hit song "Valley Girl" and ruined the speech of a generation. It's like, oh my GAWD. Etc.
I got used to it from my immediate contemporaries, therefore, being of that generation. And I'm sure MODPM*, one of the few people whom I know to be reading this, is already screaming at her monitor that I do it, too, and it sounds extra stupid with the rest of my rarified and astonishing vocabulary. To which I can only reply, well, yes. After a while it becomes unconscious, this usage, like beginning every phone conversation with "where are you" even if one is calling a land line, or looking to the right rather than the left before crossing the street. If the speaker is not paying mindful attention to what she is saying, "like" creeps in quite a lot.
So really, I should not have been surprised to hear it from my knitting, quilting, Mrs. Claus acquaintance earlier this week. But I was. I'm still conditioned to view white hair and spectacles as belonging to a particular generation -- my grandmother's and, to a certain degree, my mother's now that they're hitting their 70s. And yes, this particular, like, individual is a premature grey and in all other respects thoroughly representative of the boomer generation; her iPod is heavy on the music of the 60s and early 70s, favoring heavily performers like Todd Rundgren, her other tastes in line with that. But still, the hair and the glasses do not go along with the "like." They just don't.
But at least she does not commit the kind of lexical howlers MODPM just spotted over the weekend on the door outside a certain well-known emporium in Saratoga, announcing the place was closed for an extended holiday break and that the owner was "sorry for the incontinence."
Usages like that, after all, have never been confined to any particular generation or demographic group except, perhaps, for the ones who didn't pay attention to their spelling lessons. At least, I hope that's the cause. The owner of that store is a baby boomer, too, and, well, enough said...
*MODPM=My Own Dear Personal Mom
Causes Kate Sherrod Supports
National Novel Writing Month, National Public Radio (two stations - KUWR/Laramie, WY and KUNC - Greeley, CO), Wyoming Association of Municipalites, Wyoming...