Sunday, August 1, 2010

Like, totally

A few days ago, I managed to catch a call on the Dr. Laura radio show from a twelve-year-old girl.

Now understand… I have a twelve-year-old girl as well, so my ears perk up whenever I hear a call from anyone my kid’s age.

This preteen poured out her woes to Dr. Laura in typical Kidspeak. This meant, like, that almost literally, like, every other word was “like.”

“And he, like, told me that, like, I had to clean my room. Then, like, I told him no…”

That kind of thing. Sadly, it’s almost always girls afflicted with this speech impediment. I call it a speech impediment because, once in a long while, I’ll hear Dr. Laura ask a similar-sounding adult caller to just speak clearly without all the “likes” and the caller CANNOT.

Of course this is nothing new. This kind of dialect has been around for decades, arguably generations. Since I’m out of the loop of whatever Kidspeak (or perhaps more accurately, Teenspeak) is currently popular in public schools, I’m miles behind on the specifics of today's lingo… but one strong underlying thread remains true through whatever Teenspeak variation is in vogue at the moment. Ready for a massive profundity?

It makes you sound like a shallow materialistic twit. I don't care if you're a straight-A student in every college prep course the school has to offer, you sound like a shallow materialistic twit.

Have you, like, ever heard a, like, female politician or news anchorwoman or a physician or any other career woman whose intelligence is presumed to be above room temperature, speak like this? Of course not. Assumedly they train themselves out of that dialect as they pursue the education leading to their career. Or, perhaps, it’s only the girls who avoid falling prey to Teenspeak who pursue such careers. The others, like, don’t.

It should be fairly obvious that the ability to communicate verbally is an important component in modern society. Obviously not everyone has a radio broadcast career in their future. But communication opportunities arise all the time, in one’s ordinary daily existence. How effective, like, would your attempts be to, like, spread the Gospel if, like, you talked like this?

My girls, since they haven’t grown up melded with a television set or rubbing shoulders with kids for whom Proper English is a second language, are actually able to communicate without sprinkling “like” after every word. They can even speak in complete sentences, a fact which alone distinguishes them among their age group.

“I try to avoid using ‘went’ and use ‘said’ instead,” noted Older Daughter as we discussed this issue recently. “I’ll try to say, ‘He said thus-and-such’ instead of ‘He went thus-and-such.’”

I don’t know a whole lot of fourteen-year-olds who are consciously trying to make their speech as clear and accurate as possible in an additional attempt to distinguish themselves from their peers. I believe this bodes well for her future.

Let’s face it, if you’re addressing two teens with excellent grade point averages and similar clothing styles, which will you perceive to be more intelligent after listening to them speak? Hint: it’s NOT going to be the Valley Girl. It’s going to be the girl whose diction is clear, precise, and shorn of unnecessary and trendy additives.

And how will this translate into employment opportunities when they're older? I don't believe there is an employer on the planet who is purposefully seeking to hire shallow materialistic twits.

So, like, yesterday evening I’m driving Youngest Daughter and her friend Miss Calamity home after a long day of play. The girls somehow got onto the subject of Teenspeak and were attempting to, like, imitate it. It was kind of funny, rather like hearing me attempt to imitate an Irish accent. (I stink at accents.)

“Mom,” said Younger Daughter, “tell Miss Calamity about that Valley Girl song.”

So I told about Frank Zappa and the unusual names he gave his daughter (“Moon Unit”) and son ("Dweezil"), and how when she was fourteen, Moon Unit came up with a song called “Valley Girl” which encapsulated the teenage “like, totally” lingo of the San Fernando Valley.

I believe one of the reasons the song was such a hit is because it merely underscored the truth… namely, that there are whole generations of girls (and to a lesser extent, boys) growing up sounding like shallow materialistic twits.

Gag me with a spoon.


  1. Oh Have you hit on a pet peeve of mine! I can't stand that type of speech pattern! The other one is every 5-6 words they toss in "um, yeah"..or dude .Oh, gag me with a spoon!

  2. My son informs me that there are stores in the mall, namely "outfitter" stores (American Eagle, etc) and video game stores would throw away applications of teens who actually spoke clearly. I guess it would alienate their customers LOL

  3. I was responsible for hirig people to work for my tech support company a number of years ago in a small Army town in Kansas. I needed 80 new hires every two weeks for about 3 months. No matter how hard they hammered me to get those numbers, since we were a over the phone company, if you COULD NOT use proper english in the interview I would not hire you. Yet basically it was a Blow on this mirror, you fogged it your hired interview. I was accused of racism for my stance but stood by what I was doing because ir=t WAS NOT a color issue it was a bona fide issue of how a customer would hear you and your voice is the only product we sell.

  4. The one that gets me going is "whaz-up?" I have a male friend in his 60s who insists on using that term each time he calls. Fortunately, he calls infrequently.

    Another word that is overused to the point of sickening is "awesome." It has lost any credibility in our language, now, because it is used anytime, anywhere, and for anything.

    Your blog is, like, awesome, Patrice, and I, like, can't wait to, like, find out whaz-up? next time.

    Anonymous Twit (Not to be confused with "shallow materialistic twit.")

  5. I think teen jargon and lazy speech patterns have been around forever, but it truly baffles me in my own home that I never say to my daughters, "Me and your dad are going shopping today." instead of "Your dad and I..." They have several poor speech habits that I have tried to break but to no avail. Suggestions, anyone?

  6. I'm afraid that Older Daughter is more culturally deprived than I'd thought:

    “I’ll try to say, ‘He said thus-and-such’ instead of ‘He went thus-and-such.' "

    She can't even say it wrong wrong! In teen speak it's:

    “I’ll try to say, ‘He said thus-and-such’ instead of ‘He GOES thus-and-such.’”

    "And how will this translate into employment opportunities when they're older?"

    "Employment?" "EMPLOYMENT?!!"

    How about just getting an interview? Kids who speak as well as yours will get interviewed first, while valspeakers won't even get past the person answering the phone.

    And what about college admissions? Scholarships? Internships? Teaching assistant positions? VIP campus tour guides. Whom do you think THOSE kids meet, spend an hour with, and impress the hell out of, and get offered business cards by? Who looks like a slam dunk for intern at the touring Senator's DC office? Who looks like a slam dunk for an appointment to one of the military academies?

    Dear Sen. Jones,

    Perhaps you remember giving me your card the afternoon I gave you a tour of the Yale campus last fall, and you commented on my being home schooled on a farm in Idaho. You kindly said to write if you could ever help me.

    I am interested in interning on the Russ Limberger show, and wondered if you might be able to write me a recommendation? Enclosed is a short...

    Do you think that kid will get that recommendation?

    In a slightly different vain, I recall reading about scores of applicants waiting for interviews for one available telegrapher's job at Western Union during the Depression. At exactly 9:00 AM one applicant stood up, walked through the door without knocking and closed it behind him. One minute later, the boss opened the door, thanked the others for coming, and said the job had been filled.

    All of the other qualified telegraphers were understandably upset! "What's going on? We didn't have a chance!"

    The boss said, "Just before 9:00 o'clock, with my pen, on my desk, I tapped out:

    'The first man through that door gets the job.' "

    They definitely won't hire just because you need a job.
    They won't hire just because you can do the job.
    They might possibly hire you if you show them initiative, intelligence, or even just that you're awake and paying attention!

    Another story, true, I'm told.

    During the depression again, a black pullman porter was having a late night conversation with a rich business man as the train barreled through the night.

    Working as much as they'd let him, the discouraged young porter explained, he still didn't see how he could earn enough to pay for the upcoming Fall semester at college.

    The rich man listened with understanding, and told the young man to Step Out in Faith, and show up at school with what he did have, and see what help might be had.

    No, there were no scholarships available. He'd already applied for them all.

    "Go anyway. Have some faith. What have you got to lose?"

    After some more talk, the young man agreed.

    Back at college he went to the Dean, and explained that he couldn't pay the full amount, but hoped that there might be some way to work it off.

    The Dean told him to sit down. He didn't need to work. His full tuition, board, books, and extras had been paid in full through graduation. There was but one condition.

    What might that be, the young man apprehensively enquired.

    "You had to show up."

    Bill Smith

  7. When I was a teen I must shamefully admit that I had a few speech impediments come and go.
    They went because Mum mercilessly teased me about them and threw them back in my face constantly. I realized how ridiculous I sounded and I made a consious effort to stop saying them.
    So I would say 'Hey Mum' and she would say 'Hey yes'? and in the case of "like" she would say 'like, really'? Much emphasis is put on the offending word with a sarcastic twist. She did this every time it came up in my speech. I forget how long it took to break the habit - because thats what it is, a bad habit - but it did work for me and I'm very grateful I didn't sound like a twit for too long.

  8. Rose: My suggestion is to tell your daughters that if they can't say it properly, you'll refuse to acknowledge them until the do say it propery.

  9. We're a homeschooling family that does not watch cable television, but somehow I noticed the "likes" start slipping into every day speech. Thankfully, I think we caught it early and we correct one another when a "like" is inserted into a sentence. Also, when we're in public and I overhear a young woman speaking this way, I will sometimes tell the children to eavesdrop for a moment so that they can hear how awful it sounds.

  10. Another HUGE pet peeve of mine? The way so many teens? Girls especially? Seem to talk in question? Because they raise their voice at the end of every sentence? So I never know? If they're telling me or asking me?

  11. Right on, Patrice! You pegged it perfectly. The way so many girls talk today can be traced back to the "Valley Girl" mentality, when it was considered "cool" to talk like an asinine snob. "Went" and "like" permeate their sentences. Also, words such as "dad" or "daddy" is pronounced "dawd" or "dawdy." Evidently young girls are still being brainwashed into thinking this kind of talk is cool. We reared our 3 girls to think it was stupid, so... maybe we should blame the parents, eh?

  12. Like, how about WICKED? Wicked fun! I just recently heard this new (or, maybe old!) way of using the word "wicked," and it came out of the mouths of 20-something and 30-something year-old women! Thankfully, it was only on a television program (from 2009) and not in person! I actually laughed out loud the first time I heard it!

    Like, wow, Patrice, your blog is WICKED cool!

  13. Sorry to say that I am so deprived of culture that I am sort of missing some of what you are referring to. Back in the day we all talked in a normal English fashion. We raised hell, did wrong and finally grew up. At least most of us. But WHATEVER! Like you know. If it is such a big deal you need to chill dude. Funny stuff Patrice.

  14. That was AWESOME AT ! It makes me wish I could take back my previous comments. I didn't carefully read first. You are more up on this crazey crap than I. I bow before the master. Who says living in CA in a total loss. This is all in fun as I'm sure you know.

  15. I have three adult daughters and they are all well spoken and have good jobs where they are respected. I don't know if it is because we are in the midwest or not, but this sort of valley girl-speak just never caught on. My girls, like, went to public school and watched TV and still, like, never started using that word, like, inappropriately. :)

    I suppose we are all a little guilty of using "goes" instead of said in this family though. I have caught myself doing that even. There are probably certain words or word patterns that are more local. Someone mentioned using the word "wicked" to equate "cool". I have always thought that was a northeastern US originated term.