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Hummel column: I, like, don't like 'Like'

It's starting to like, bug me. It may be true that only stuffed shirts and fuddy duddies whine about the direction of our language and common usage, but hear me out.

The problem goes all the way back to the 70s when so-called "Valley Girls" in southern California spiced up their language with "valley speak" to sound cool. They added the word like in places where they might have said "um," "oh," or even "you know" to achieve the same meaning -- none. Silence would work too, but that's not cool. And since everybody wants to be cool, the virus spread -- just like the cool of wearing your baseball cap backwards (to keep the bright sun off your neck) or to wear the cap tipped off to the side of your head with the bill flat instead of curved, in order to look... cool.

So when I say it's starting to like, bug me, do I mean it's really bugging me or do I mean it's almost bugging me? Answer: It's really bugging me. The world is overcrowded with Valley Girls and rappers now and we don't need any more.

Maybe it doesn't matter how a cool 15-year-old girl, or boy, expresses herself or himself, but these kids carry their speech patterns through high school, into college and beyond. How do they express themselves in speech class? What grade does a student get in an assigned speech when she declares, "My experience at a homeless shelter was like, awesome." Was it awesome or almost awesome? (We might talk about the use of awesome too. If the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest are awesome, how can a hamburger without onions be awesome too? But that's another subject.)

The word like does have meaning. If I say, "I like hamburgers," you know exactly what I mean. Further, if I say, "This tastes like hamburger," again, you get a clear message. But if I say, "I'm like, starved for a good hamburger right now," you've done nothing to express yourself by adding an extra (irritating) word that is nothing but babble.

Students in high school and college write papers. Do they add the same meaningless like in their papers the way they do when they speak? Not if they want passing grades.

Does a virus run out of poison, or does it keep spreading? This one is, like, spreading. Some graduates have become English teachers. Consider that. Cool young lawyers are appearing in court these days making statements such as "Your Honor, my client is pleading, like, not guilty." Veteran Judge: Counselor, we don't have a plea called like, not guilty -- is your client pleading guilty or not guilty? Cool young lawyer: "I'm sorry Your Honor, make that not guilty. I thought you would understand what I meant." Impatient Judge: "The best way for me to understand what you mean would be for you to say exactly what you mean without any meaningless words. Our court reporters don't have the time or patience to record empty expressions. They're not cool in the courtroom. Next case."

It could get worse. Some of those cool young lawyers may never break their speech habits, and actually become judges. Can you imagine a trial without a jury where the cool judge announces his verdict -- "I find the defendant, like, guilty." There should be an automatic appeal and reversal of a verdict of "like, guilty" based on cruel and unusual punishment.

Be careful. If you agree with my whining about the viral spread of like, you'll probably identify yourself as a stuffed shirt, and a fuddy duddy too. Nobody would blame you if you exercise your right to, like, remain silent.