This One’s For, Like, My Niece

I just got back from our annual Dupree/Luper family reunion, instituted last year in loving memory of our sainted mom. (Linda and I have terrific families on both sides.) I used to go to Bloomington, Indiana, to visit Mom about three times a year, but those trips ceased when she passed away in late 2008. This year, the whole darn clambake was in B-town, so all of a sudden it had been quite a while since I’d seen my Indiana niece, now 20, whom I’ve known, of course, since she was a zygote. Nowadays, she’s loving, vibrant, attractive, cheerful, charming, playful, in-your-face improvisatory, able to dig irony and throw it right back at you. She’s about as wonderful a niece as is my other brother’s delightful daughter, the Texan (soon to become a New Yorker!). Great young lady.

I have only one problem with this otherwise impeccable kid:

Along with all her close friends, she peppers her speech with the word “like.”

The niece who says “like” all the time.

I want this word back. (I want “gay” back too, but it’s being put to pretty good use, so Uncle Tom cries “uncle” on that one.)

You’ve heard it too. This is not the beatnik affectation of, say, a Maynard G. Krebs, in Bob Denver’s first hilarious characterization. Not “Like, man, what’re we gonna do tonight?” This is a reflexive interjection that means something akin to “I’m filling up a space here that doesn’t really exist,” and “but you know what I’m talking about because you’ve been there too, right?,” and “I don’t want to get too specific because this is just a casual conversation.”

“We went to, like, the beach, and I brought all my like sunscreen and stuff, but I forgot my flipflops. I was all, how did I do that? So he like went out of his way to drive me back home. It took like half an hour.”

The one who doesn’t.

While I’m visiting, I enjoy acting like a dip and raising my hand as if I were in school. She calls on me and I try to get some clarification: did he actually go out of his way, or was it just something similar that he did? By now, when my hand goes up the first time, she knows she’s busted. And for the two or three days until I finally, mercifully, go back home, she actually tries to censor that expression, and in fact does a pretty good job of it. But you have to concentrate to strike “like.” It’s like – and I do mean similar to — a hiccup. It just comes out. It’s part of the patois. Hang around younger people long enough and you may find yourself tossing the “likes” around too. I’ve heard thirty-somethings do it. Book editors!

I know, I know, it’s a losing battle, and I may be the last one waging it. Who really cares, after all? If that’s the worst thing you can come up with, you’re dealing with a pretty amazing person. But if for a couple days a year, I can get one young lady to, like, slow down a little when in my presence, why then, my work is done. Hey, why’s that hand up in the air?

8/1/11: At this year’s family reunion, my niece had almost completely cleaned up her act: I even complimented her on it! Turns out she’d been practicing during the 11-hour drive to North Carolina, but still, that’s proactive and deserves a cheer.

The spectacles complete the new “like”-less look at the 2011 reunion.


10 Responses to This One’s For, Like, My Niece

  1. Janna Silverstein says:

    Are you familiar with teacher/spoken-word poet Taylor Mali? He’s had his say on this subject and, like, he gets it, totally:

    • Tom Dupree says:

      Thanks for those links, Janna: Mr. Mali is a gem, and says it far better than I can. Love his observation that some students turn a declarative statement into faux interrogative just by the tone of voice. It’s true!

  2. You should try like working on a college campus. Can we add “you know” to that list as well?

    • Tom Dupree says:

      As long as you complete the thought: “Y’know what I’m sayin’?” Meaning, I guess, “is my diction clear enough for you?”

  3. Rick Dupree says:

    Some learned folk in my office credit Scooby and Shaggy with originating the “like” phenom. 🙂

    Kids these days…they’ll repeat anything they hear from gifted actors.

  4. Mar says:

    All I know is like she is like one terrific young lady.

  5. brenda ware jones says:

    “Like” is the modern “uh” which speech teachers were always, like, you know, getting on our asses about in high school. Whatever. Duh. (two more words I’d like to have the Language Police police!:):)

  6. brenda ware jones says:

    Meant to add, your niece is, like totally awesome and amazing, Uncle Tom! Quite a beauty.

  7. Kaite Dupree says:

    Practice makes perfect! Thanks Uncle Tom!
    Love, Kaite

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