When you think about people over-using “like,” a caricature of a 14 year old girl might pop into your head. Her main concerns might include finding the right shade of lip gloss and losing 3 pounds by Friday for her date with her flavor of the week boyfriend. Or, to lose the details, “bubble-headedness.” Definitely not someone you’re going to take seriously. In fact, you’ll probably concentrate more on that one little syllable than the actual content of her speech.
But is that the purpose of using “like” in this manner? To make yourself sound as if you aren’t completely confident in what you’re saying, and therefore placing yourself (unconsciously) at a lower level than whoever you’re speaking with? Because if you don’t sound confident, if you sound like you don’t REALLY know what you’re talking about, you aren’t a threat. You could be saying the most profound and radical statement but if you’ve got too many “like”s in there nobody is going to listen. Young people and women especially are taught to do this, culturally; to dumb yourself down so that you remain non-threatening. You start because things like “like” are a verbal crutch, a safety net from embarrassment in case you are wrong. But then it catches. It becomes habit.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because when I’m in class or with friends and I’m talking about something serious, I almost never use the word “like.” I mean, sure, here and there, but not in any noticeable manner. I am confident; clear and concise in my convictions, ready to defend myself if anyone tries to mansplain or otherwise condescend. But when I find myself trying to convey those same ideas to, say, my boyfriend, I can hear myself using “like” and “or whatever” at every turn and in general sounding weak. Is it really so ingrained in me that (slightly) older male figures are figures of power that I need to make myself sound unsure of myself in fear of being wrong?
The answer is… well, yes. It is. Our current social climate constantly reinforces ideas of young people and women needing to bend to others’ wills, to dumb themselves down, to always give people in power the upper hand, even in daily casual conversation. This isn’t exactly the biggest issue plaguing gender roles, but the way we carry ourselves and the way we speak conveys messages. For me, when every other word is “like,” I’m saying, “feel free to contradict me and tell me I’m wrong because I don’t actually have a clue about what I’m talking about anyway.” Since our culture tells some people to give up their verbal power in such a way, it tells others to take it.
I’m going to fight to keep it… and break this rather nasty habit.