Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Speech and the "Like"

Clark Whelton's article on modern speech patterns crystallizes many of current idioms in everyday conversation that drive me absolutely nuts. Simply put, people talk as though they are still in junior high. Descriptive, meaningful language has disintegrated into a sea of "likes" and "ums" and "and then I said, I said..." We describe what happens to us in onomatopoeia and drawn out sounds. I am definitely guilty of telling stories that end in "and I look at him like, 'um... helloooo?'" I tell myself it's for comic effect, but why exactly is that even funny? It's merely an impression of the emotional states involved in the narrative and actually reveals very little about the event itself. So when we tell stories like that, what are we even saying? How did this become so prevalent?

I especially loved the section in which Whelton discusses how what are supposed to be declarative statements have become questions. It reminded me of when my high school theatre class was practicing the audition process - go in, introduce yourself, perform your monologue, etc. We all had to get up in front of the class and present. Interestingly, the majority of my classmates (including myself, cringe) all introduced ourselves as though we weren't really sure what our names were:
"Hi, I'm Liza Oldham...? And I'll be doing a piece from..."
The teacher finally stopped one of us and said,
"Are you sure that's your name? You all need to stop going up at the end of your sentences. You would never hear Tom Hanks come into a room and say, 'Hi. Um, I'm Tom Hanks...?' Who you are isn't a question. Well, at least not in this setting."
Ever since that day, I have been very conscious of the way I introduce myself, but also of how others say their names. Without a doubt, I consistently hear people in my age group adding a lift to the end of their declarative sentences. It's a fascinating quirk and once you listen for it, you'll realize that it's everywhere. Be mindful, friends!

What language idiosyncrasies make your ears twinge?

Article from City Journal, Winter 2011, vol. 21, no. 1., via I'm Revolting.
Photograph by Abby Try Again.

1 comment:

those tricks said...

I fall victim to "like" sometimes when I get nervous or am intimidated. I, too, have been trying to be diligent about speaking with English words in full sentences. You should hear the 25 year olds around here. valley girl city!

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