In the April 5, 2014 issue of The New York Times, there is an op-ed article called, “Like, Degrading the Language? No Way.” The article was written by John McWhorter, who is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.
McWhorter’s premise is that today’s common usage of English, particularly in regards to words such as “like” and “totally,” represent an advancement in the language. McWorter postures that using these types of ‘filler’ words (that is my term, not his) shows “an awareness of the states of minds of others…”
He also says that the hesitation that we sense when someone uses the word like, “can be seen less as a matter of confidence than one of consideration.”
When I have to listen to someone who tosses in the words “like” or “ya know” every other word, it makes me crazy. Those people are not aware of my state of mind. And they are certainly not being considerate. After a while, my state of mind is: ‘I’m going to reach into your throat and pull out those words if you do not say them soon.’ When I speak with someone who constantly says “ya know,” I’m always tempted to say, “Well, no, actually I don’t know.” And the word, “totally,” is totally amusing to me.
I find it quite surprising that The Times would print this type of nonsense. Our language does not advance because people toss in words that break up their thoughts and our listening. Our language advances when people can locate the words they need to say, speak them, and listen to the response.
Have you ever sat through a presentation and counted the times the presenter said, “um” or “uh”? I have. There have been times when I completely miss the point of the talk, because I’m busy tallying up all of the nonsense words. I do understand that public speaking is something that can be foreboding and that some people are riddled with anxiety at the mere thought of speaking to a group. And, for those people, saying, “like” or “ya know” is not done on purpose. Those slips are just nerves speaking.
But to say that nonsense syllables spoken in the middle of actual information is a cause for rejoicing is, like, ya know, wrong.