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Changing vocabulary is, like, hard

I am trying to remove the word "like" from my vocabulary. Now, "like" is an undeniably useful and therefore undeniably fabulous word, essential to simile-based comparisons and expressing juvenile affection ("I know he likes me, but does he like-like me?"), and I do not seek to in any way offend, or to evict the syllable from usage.

I am perturbed, rather, by the word's use as a crutch in colloquial speech. It has traversed the planes from a stereotypically ditzy word marked by "valley girl" connotations, and now is employed in a similar fashion to an "um" or "well." (Note that where it would have been perfectly allowable to use "like" in that sentence, I refrained. Abstinence only, baby. Sarah Palin's an advocate, too, doncha know.)

I was once told by a girlfriend, and I cannot recall for what reason, "You, Thressa Isobel Johnson, my darling, are, like, my best friend," (I may have embellished) to which I responded, for want of clarity, "Am I your best friend? Or am I like her?" A nearby witness to our conversation chuckled at my query, and while I appreciated her finding my comment humorous, I did not find my comment humorous.

I don't believe my friend ever answered my question. Perhaps I would have been more upset by this were I not so hung up on her word usage and the like (darn!).

Once I realized the outrageous quantity of instances I repeatedly utter the syllable on an average day (as opposed to the above-average day, which is somewhat arrogant but always employs a greater amount of effort, therefore probably deserving the occasional boast), it began to haunt my social excursions. Everyone does it. Everyone does it a LOT.

The word plagues me now, and I hear its unwarranted usage amidst the din of conversations I'm not even listening to. It is a plague: a verbal epidemic which we have all caught through constant exposure to its presence, issuing out of one mouth and into another helpless individual through the ear drum or perhaps the nasal passages. Contact is not required for the spread -- although I suspect kissing or kneading bread dough with someone carrying a mild to severe case will encourage the continued breeding of one's own infestation.

Precautions are few and drastic. Do not turn on the television. Do not engage in witty banter, heated debate, or the expression of emotion through terms of endearment (this one is especially dangerous -- "You, like, love me, Freddie? What does that mean??!"). Do not leave your bed in the morning.

I once counted as an exceedingly intelligent young woman I know used "like" eight times in one sentence, a sentence requiring not a one of the usages. I still think about it when I look at her. It makes coherent conversation extremely difficult.

By no means does my awareness bar me from the contagion; I, too, have fallen prey, mercilessly infected and originally largely at a loss for the eradication I so desire. One sentence at a time, I am getting stronger, more capable of gripping the faucet and yanking the knob toward "closed" on the flow of likeness. It's an addiction, but I've acknowledged its hold on me, which weakens it, allowing a wisp of hope for eventual extermination.

If you now take greater notice of the word's infiltration into conversation, then I have made an impact, taken a stand for the cause. If this new attention irritates you, pains you, grieves you, I apologize.

But the truth must be made known, the foe labeled, the battle waged. Ignorance may be bliss, but enlightenment is rehabilitating, and if this word is to be broken, mastered, and put to a more noble and intentioned use, we must go the way of those who have gone before into unpleasant waters of discovery and torment.

Though the word "like" and its far-reaching effects are quite comparable to the bubonic plague in terms of rapid and non-prejudiced spread, if not in overall severity and the potential for fatality, they may as well be. If the individual were to ingest a vegetable for every utterance of "like" from his lips, we'd all be getting our dietetically-encouraged daily vitamin intake.

If good moods spread similarly to the word's travels, society would be far more cheerful and inclined toward helping the poverty-stricken, homeless, hungry, and designer-handbag-lacking. And if we all spoke of our innermost feelings as often as we mention "like," Maury's would be the only show on the air.

Except for Oprah. She's, like, amazing.

Thressa Johnson is a senior at Detroit Lakes High School.