Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2003 / 29 Elul, 5763

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

It's, like, the way it is | "So it was, like, really unreal. We just, like, walked into the restaurant and it was, like, totally empty and I was, like, whoaaaa!

Y'know, like, I really don't wanna be here, okay?"

It's bad enough when you hear teens and movie stars talk this way, but have you noticed that EVERYONE is now starting to speak this way?

"It's, like, sooo creepy, y'know?"

Well, maybe not EVERYONE is talking this way - at least not yet, but I do hear it more and more from older people - people who should know better. The two most common teen-slang expressions that have crossed over into the "adult world" are "COOL" and "LIKE." Like is used in place of "it's as if" much of the time, but its usage is even broader than that. Like has become the all purpose word - the word people fall back on when they can't come up with the real word they need. But it is also inserted into a sentence when no word is necessary at all.

For example, I heard TV personality Regis Philbin say this the other morning on his show: "When you have, like, a country house." Now, if he just means a country house, why not simply say, "When you have a country house?" On the other hand, maybe he's using country house as an example, in which case he should say, "for example, when you have a country house." Or maybe he's referring to something that is NOT EXACTLY a country house, but is something like it? Who knows what he means. I'd expect his co-host to speak this way, but a 70 year old man who has spent his life communicating with the public should try and express himself a little better than that. And one more thing, Reeg, stop dying your hair red.

If people could only hear what they sound like when they speak like that!

Stupid is about the kindest word I can come up with to describe what they sound like to me. I refuse to believe that the reason so many people are beginning to sound stupid is because so many people really are stupid..but I could be wrong. I think the more probable cause is sheer slothfulness. As with much of slang, using "like" in this way is mostly just being lazy with our vocabulary. When we hear something repeated enough times, day in and day out, even if we personally don't like it, we can fall into the trap of using it ourselves because suddenly it seems to be the first thing out of our mouths. We don't think of what it is we're saying. It's easier to say the slang term than to search our brain to come up with a more appropriate word.

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Sometimes when slang sneaks into daily conversation it can usurp a more conventional, more gracious response. I'm launching a campaign to bring back that old expression which was once used as the normative reply after someone said "thank you." Today, of course, the reply (if one is lucky enough to get a reply at all) is "no problem," but back in prehistoric times people actually used to say "you're welcome." Does anyone remember that?

"You're welcome!" It's said so rarely these days that it sounds alien when you try to say it now. Test it out for yourself -- next time you're at a check stand in a store and the clerk hands you your change and says "thank you" just try saying "your welcome" in response. It's not easy.

Like so much of contemporary speech, it's not only young people speaking this way, the older folks pick up on it too, and it drives me nuts to hear some sixty year old reply to "thank you" with "no problem." Might just as well say, "No sweat, man" or "No worries, dude."

But "no problem" isn't the only common response one hears to "thank you" these days. Sometimes "thank you" is answered by the other person saying "thank YOU," which is just plain silly when you think about it. I mean, really, that exchange could go on all day! "Thank you." "Thank YOU." "No, thank YOU."

"Oh, no, thank YOU!" "No, I insist - I thank YOU!!" "But I thank YOU much more!" When, after several minutes of this nonsense, one or the other person finally rejoins with "no problem," just to get the stupid thing over with. And, by the way, to go back to our example with the clerk at the check out line, when he or she says "thank you" after we pay for our purchases, why do so many of us say "thank YOU" in response? The clerk presumably is thanking us for patronizing their store, that's correct, but what are we thanking THEM for - taking our money?

Our leaders should be speaking better than we do, but sadly, it's not always the case. President Bush trips over words on a semi-regular basis. Clinton is a better public speaker than Bush, but he has a problem with word meanings - as in "it depends on what the definition of 'is' is."

The Reverend Jesse Jackson mispronounces words all the time, although he does have a way with rhyme. (By the way, why is it when anyone refers to Jackson it's always "THE" Reverend Jesse Jackson - but when they refer to other reverends "THE" isn't used? For others it's just plain ol' Reverend Jerry Falwell or Reverend Martin Luther King. What's with the "THE" with Jackson?)

Governor Gray Davis made news recently when he said, "My vision is to make the most diverse state on earth, and we have people from every planet on the earth in this state." Davis' statement was an unintentional gaffe, however, in the case of California, he just might have stumbled unto something true - and for Gray Davis, saying something true about California would REALLY be news.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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