CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - I say "like." Like, a lot.
I am a product of my times. I cut my teeth on John Hughes movies and lace gloves. Sometimes I notice it and try to remind myself that any self-respecting, college-educated adult should have some respect for the English language. Add to that the fact that I'm a writer, and a former speechwriter to boot, and you see how easy it is to beat myself up over my verbal tic.
The worst part is that I've passed it along to the next generation. Every parent knows that our children keep us in check, mirroring our best (and worst) behaviors. Luckily, my 4-year-old daughter has inherited my love of a story, my dedication to delivery.
At dinner, I watch her, my proud heart swelling, as she launches into a breathless recitation of the day's events. And then, like a cacophony in my ears, it's unleashed:
"And then, like, Erin and I jumped on her bed. Cuz, like, her mom said it was, like, OK."
Her arms flail to provide emphasis. "We had, like, so much fun! And then, I was like, so tired." My ears burn and I can't hear anything but "like." "Blah blah blah blah, LIKE, blah! LIKE, blah blah."
And so it is revealed. People are right. The word "like" is, like, annoying.
I never knew.
The other day, I was waiting for a drink in my local university town smoothie shop. It is almost summer, things are slow and lazy, and most of the undergrads have left town. In their place are the incoming freshmen who come to tour campus and sign up for classes.
These poor kids are easy to spot. The look on their face lacks the confidence, dare I say cockiness, of the returning students. These fresh faces are almost always accompanied by their parents: an aloof dad checking out the Big Ten sportswear, a mom holding plastic bags full of textbooks, head swiveling from side to side, making a mental note to review the legal drinking age with her offspring.
This day, in the smoothie shop, I'm joined by just such a trio. The mom, apparently worried about her daughter's class load, has solicited help from an accommodating grad student who was innocently waiting for her fruity blend.
"Are you sure she can handle these classes?" the mom asks as she thrusts her daughter's freshman schedule into the grad student's hands. "It seems like too much! Three classes in one day?!"
The grad student was very patient with the woman, and as they went back and forth, the daughter, meanwhile, talked loudly on her cell phone (of course), telling a friend about her schedule and ignoring her mother completely.
"I have, like, three classes on Monday and, like, no classes on Thursday. But then, like, I have three classes on Friday. I so totally, like, have a sucky schedule."
Amid the whirring of the smoothie blenders I hear my future.
Loudly again, into her phone, "Like, I know!" At that moment I vow to speak slowly and banish "like" from my vocabulary forever. I can't possibly continue to sound like this girl.
It's ridiculous. In so doing, I will save my daughter from this decidedly horrible fate. It stops here.
For the love of Pete, where is my 20-ounce Blueberry Heaven? I can't take much more.
She continued talking to her friend, and without skipping a beat, she said, "Well, my first class is Public Speaking."
Kim Schmidt is a freelance writer. This article originally appeared in The Christian Science Monitor.