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.”
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.”
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.