Last year in my British Literature class, a fellow Mills student said the word “like” 87 times in less than four minutes during a class discussion. I know this because I’d started making tick marks for every time she said it. It became too hard to focus on the point she was trying to make, like, ya know. Having to delete every other word a person says is exhausting. It seems that as far as I can gather she’s a smart girl, but since she cannot seem to get through a sentence without saying the word “like” several times, anything of value she has to add to the class becomes completely obscured by nonsensical, ridiculously distracting, ill-used likes. It’s also distressing because saying “like,” and/or “um, like, ya know” seems to be contagious. Over the course of the semester the whole class started using these exact same filler words more and more often, even me. The worst of it was that this virus even spread to our beloved faculty member, whom I’m quite sure rarely talks in that way.
It’s not that I don’t understand. I grew up in the 80s in southern California, where being a Valley Girl and talking with, like, the totally tubular vernacular of the day, that “like” drove our parents, like totally mental, like, ya know? But this is not the 80s. We are not at the mall, and if you want to be heard or have what you are saying taken seriously, it’s time to grow up and stop talking as if you’re, like, still in high school and are, like, completely, like, unconscious.
I once took a course for seminar leaders called “How to Train the Trainer.” It focused on leadership skills, how to keep an audience’s attention and things along those lines. The most important thing I learned was to stop using filler words and learn to be comfortable with my own silence until I had something of value to say. During this weekend course, if a participant got up to speak and used a filler word, they had to be silent for the rest of the session. It proved to be a very effective lesson in choosing your words carefully and respecting those who are listening to you.
I wish just one professor at Mills would employ these tactics. For one, I am so sick of hearing the word “like” used incessantly and unnecessarily; two, in the real world, (and yes, I lived and worked in it for almost 30 years before coming back to school), people will not feel the need to respect what you are saying when most of what you are saying means nothing; and three, I expect more from you, young women, and you should expect more from yourselves.