On the train recently returning from Sydney, my quiet reading was interrupted by a conversation between two twenty-something women who had just sat themselves three rows behind. I found it almost impossible to concentrate on the page, as not only did they have no apparent need to pause for breath, their conversation was also punctuated by the endless repetition of a four letter word. No…not the F word, nor the C word. Worse still, the dreadful L word.
Like, I can hear in my head like, that song from like a few years back. Like Pauline Pantsdown, singing “I don’t like it”, like. And I was like, you know.
But unlike Pauline, they liked a lot, those girls; all the way from Macquarie Park to somewhere mercifully short of Hornsby. What was most interesting to me however, as they generously shared their conversation at full volume with all and sundry in the carriage, was to realise that the use of the word ‘like’ wasn’t just a verbal tic, similar to an “umm”, it was actually the foundation upon which they expressed themselves. Moreover, that foundation was an entirely different one than used by my own generational peers in terms of how they expressed their feelings, and their reactions to everyday events.
Whereas I might use descriptive words to express to someone how a situation affected me, they simply gave direct quotations of their own reactions. I might say “I was speaking with Bob the other day, and he was being quite aggressive and said something that really upset me. I just had to walk away eventually.” In contrast, the likers would say “I was like, talking with Bob and he was going off like, and I was like I’m not listening to you anymore.” I might tell a friend “It was so hot last weekend that we just couldn’t face cooking anything for dinner, so we just sat in the pool to cool off and had a salad later.” They might say “Like the other day, I was like I’m SO hot and sweaty, and I was like I’m not going to cook, and like Let’s go for a swim.”
It occurred to me that amongst the LOLs, the lazy swearing and the Americanisms, we are also in the midst of the extinction of descriptive vocabulary. It is no longer necessary apparently to use verbs; it is only necessary to quote one’s own immediate reactions to any given event. Another example perhaps of the “It’s all about me” point of view that seems ever more pervasive.
Eventually they got off the train and peace descended again on the carriage. I liked that. I liked it a lot.