Is It, Like, OK To Say ‘Like’?

Created: Wednesday, August 22, 2018, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 9:30 am

Updated: at



 

by Jerry Weissman

John Hamilton McWhorter V thinks that the pervasive and prolific insertion of the word “like” into daily conversations by teenagers—and increasingly by adults—is a positive contribution to spoken communication. Although Mr. McWhorter is an unimpeachable authority on language (Columbia University faculty and countless articles, papers, and books), I disagree with him; not with conversational usage, but in presentations. Given his estimable credentials, I cannot challenge his turf, only mine.

Conversation
Image: StockUnlimited

The professor builds his case for liking “like” in his most recent book, Words on the Move, by tracking its etymological origins back to Old English, forward to its usage by Beatniks, and culminating in today’s youth by citing no less than three contributions he calls:

  • “reinforcing like”
  • “like [that] acknowledges…discomfort”
  • “quotative like.”

You can find his full discussion of his rationale in this Atlantic article adapted from the book, but as my point of contention, I will focus only on his conclusion, “Like is not just a tic of heedless, under-confident youth.”

As a presentation coach, I regularly ask my clients which of their public speaking skills they want to optimize. By far, the two most-frequently cited goals are to overcome nervousness (a universal concern I addressed in this prior post) and, of equal concern, how to project confidence/executive presence.

Professor McWhorter’s three benefits notwithstanding, “like,” is only a stylistic grace note—it adds no substance. “Like” conveys the informality associated with youth rather than the maturity of executive presence. Senior management must communicate a company’s messaging with language that is succinct, articulate, and assured. Can you imagine a CFO telling a Wall Street analyst who is assessing a company’s product strategy, “Our product will be priced at, like, a thousand dollars”? Hardly.

But there is another, and by no means lesser, reason that “like” falls short of inspiring confidence: it is a filler word, the dreaded bane of all presenters. Microsoft, a company quite focused on Word (pardon the pun) has developed TrueText, a new machine-learning technology, in which a key function is to remove “speech disfluencies (filler words), such as “um”s, “ah”s, “and”s, “like”s.”

“Um”s, “ah”s, “and”s, and “like”s are the lingua franca of teen speak, but they also create bridges—artificial bridges—between clauses and sentences. So do “which”s, “therefore”s, “wells”s, “so”s, and “but”s, words which occur in the speech pattern of all demographic segments. When presenters arbitrarily populate their narratives with these artificial bridges, it produces a long, unbroken string of verbiage—a flatline pattern that makes it difficult for audiences to process and, worse, makes the speaker appear rushed and harried.

Not executive presence.

With all due respect to the estimable Professor McWhorter and to Microsoft TrueText, do it yourself; replace your “like”s—as well as all of its filler cousins—with pauses. The pause refreshes your content.

Best of all, it will make your meaningful words intelligible and your audience will, like, get it!


Jerry Weissman
 
Jerry Weissman is among the world’s foremost corporate presentations coaches. His private client list reads like a who’s who of the world’s best companies, including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intuit, Cisco, Microsoft, Netflix, RingCentral, Mobileye, OnDeck, CyberArk, Twilio, Zuora and many others.

Jerry originally founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988. In 2017, the name was changed to reflect clients’ goals: To make an impact, to influence, to get results, to persuade. The new name is Suasive. As Jerry says, “The name has changed, but our mission has not: Be Suasive: Be Heard.”


Related Posts

Stage Fright  by Jerry Weissman A Close Cousin of Writer’s Block In the prior blog, you read about how the hero of the Hollywood film, Limitless, cures ...
Six Ways to Win With Words  by Jerry Weissman “Words, words, words! I get words all day through,” are the exasperated lyrics exclaimed by the title character of My Fair La...
Viral Video In Two Steps: Presentation And Perseverance   by Jerry Weissman Two weeks ago, Mary Jennings Hegar was a textbook definition of a long shot: a rookie Democrat running in red state Texas’ ...
Build A Better Mousetrap And Presentation  by Jerry Weissman In Silicon Valley, the Eleventh Commandment is Build a Better Mousetrap. Almost every day produces another announcement abo...

Microsoft and the Office logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.

Plagiarism will be detected by Copyscape

© 2000-2018, Geetesh Bajaj - All rights reserved.

since November 02, 2000