This is, Like, Really Hard

So I thought it was time to give you all an update on my epic quest to stop saying “like” so much. As I explained last week, I had a few reasons for trying to cut back. But mainly it was that I realized I use it as a linguistic crutch, and my verbal eloquence would probably benefit greatly from trying to cut it out.

Well, I’ve learned a few things so far. First is that, when you want to take something out of your verbal vocabulary, your increased awareness of the word or words is a major first step. I notice the word “like” all the time now. I definitely notice when I say it, which makes sense, but it also jumps out at me when other people are saying it. I think this is important because every time I think, “Oops, I just said it!” or, “Huh, I never realized my brother says it, too!” I become more and more detached from it as a word. It’s almost like it’s become contaminated.

Second lesson is that it’s become clear to me that I really do employ “like” when I’m at a loss for words. And why shouldn’t I? If you can’t find the right words when you’re speaking, you have to use some space-fillers while your brain catches up to your mouth. Historically, I’ve used “like,” but there are so many words out there! I’m pretty sure English has more actively used words than most other languages. (Warning: This is a half-remembered fact that I read somewhere once. I might be wrong!) Why shouldn’t I mix things up once in a while with some new words? The problem is, only certain words fit the bill. They have to be largely devoid of meaning, or else they can’t be space-fillers, can they?

Which brings us to third thing I’ve learned: when you eliminate a major component of your vocabulary, a huge chasm is left in its place. I think I’ve been stopping abruptly a lot when I talk, and while I know what’s going on in my hamster-wheel-powered brain (“LIKELIKELIKE”), the casual observer may not. And, in my case, it comes down to the fact that I’m really uncomfortable recounting a conversation to someone by saying, “so I said”¦” instead of, “so I was like”¦” I’m not sure why. Perhaps “said” feels too formal, or as someone pointed out in the comments last week, “like” allows you to be vague when you’re not providing a direct quote.

If you’re wondering about my results so far, I have to say that I don’t think there’s been a precipitous drop in my “like” usage to date. I’ve probably decreased it by about 15%, which I know is nothing to sneeze at, particularly after only 10 days of working on it. Still, I’m not discouraged just yet. As I said above, I think I’m building a good foundation by focusing on my words and how I use them. I haven’t taken this good of a look at my vocabulary in a long time, and it’s been pretty enlightening so far. Is this process actually going to improve my verbal communication? I’m not sure. I’ll give you all another update and we’ll see where I am.

Side note: I know a few people who had strong regional accents or dialects growing up but made a point to eliminate them in adulthood, and now I have nothing but admiration for them. I’m having enough trouble cutting back on one word; how anyone would go about overhauling their pronunciation or syntax is beyond me. I guess that’s what keeps dialect coaches in business!

Photo: Getty

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