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like, how do you like kumquats? (Featured in the globe and mail)

by Christina Friedrichsen

I’ve become self-conscious. It’s about my language. It’s not that I swear a lot, or that my grammar is deplorable. It’s that I’m 29 years old – a grown woman – and there’s a nasty little burr in my language that has been hitching a ride since I was a teenager. I simply can’t shake it.

And I’m not the only one walking around with this linguistic cling-on of sorts. It’s a bloody epidemic among my fellow Gen X’ers.

Back when we were in high school, a four-letter word burrowed like a small, but pervasive parasite into our impressionable brains. It made a home there, put it’s feet up, bought itself a loveseat, and a down-filled mattress, and hunkered down for the long haul.

I was in a small-town roadhouse devouring chicken wings when I first noticed just how much power this seemingly innocent word had over me.

A woman, about my age, was at the next table conversing with her beer-quaffing beau. I, who will never let a few delicious moments of eavesdropping pass me by, perked up my ears and tuned in.

“What is, like, wrong with my sister? Is she, like, ever going to find a job, and get rid of that loser boyfriend? Like, what a waste.”

How annoying, I thought.

“Honey, I don’t say ‘like’ that much do I? I know I say it sometimes, but not, like, that much, right?” I asked my husband.

“Right?” I implored again, after the silence became unbearable.

“Well, you do say it sometimes,” he said. “Listen to yourself.”

And that I did. For the duration of the evening I caught myself saying it again, and again, and again. Even when I tried to stop it, the L-word kept rearing its ugly head like a hiccup that no amount of deep breaths could cure.

Where did this affliction come from? Why has a word that bears no apparent meaning in my sentences - other than to bridge gaps of thought, find its way into my daily lexicon?
How would I get over this ‘valley-girl’ affliction?

The ‘like’ word is “quickly becoming the verbal security blanket and a virtual speech impediment for an entire generation – and generations to come, from Generation X to Generation Z and beyond,” says a recent article by David Grambs in the Vocabula Review, who likens ‘like’ to a barnacle on a wharf, or calculi to a healthy kidney.

Although Grambs does not offer a true explanation for the origin of what he calls ‘like-orrhea’, he says it is derived from an “infectious strain of laziness, or mental or communicative slackness.”

But he doesn’t just bash us “sentence litterers”, he offers us a cure.

 “… every time you catch yourself using the L-word … stop – and punish yourself by repeating word for word what you just said, but this time substituting for each like the word kumquat.”

Kumquat? Okay, Mr. Grambs, I’ll give it a go. I’ll try it for a week and see what that gets me.

Well, I tried it for two days, but truthfully, it made me feel ridiculous – especially when my husband began correcting me with kumquats.

“You said it again. Kumquat. Say it. K-u-m-q-u-a-t,” he’d say in a mocking tone. (Incidentally, my husband, who is 32, said he cured himself several years ago by becoming acutely conscious of his ‘likes.’)

Even though Mr. Grambs proposed cure did not rid me of the ‘like syndrome’, it did make me conscious of how much the word is used.

Recently, my husband and I have become so in tune with the use of the word that ‘like-spotting’ has become a game we play during television programs.

“She said it! Kumquat!” he’ll say to the TV when a hot, young actress has just committed the offense.

“I caught him! Listen! He said it again. Haha!” I’ll utter giddily to my husband during sitcoms.

Even during more serious television programs like Nova, my husband and I have caught interviewees in the act of ‘likification.’

“Tisk, tisk," we’ll say, grinning.

Although this geeky game was fun at first, it’s become a distraction. Now, it’s difficult to enjoy a TV show without commenting on the ‘likes’, rather than the content.

And, I’m sorry to say, that once you’ve read this article, you’ll probably start playing the ‘like-spotting’ game yourself. Instead of doing it during television programs, you might play it alone on the subway, in a coffee shop, or even at home.

And there is the chance that you’ll become so obsessed with the L-word that you’ll want to throw kumquats at anyone who over-uses it in your presence.

If that’s the case, just make sure that you keep a constant ‘heads up’- especially if you’re a hypocrite like me.

Because there might be a kumquat with your name on it heading fast in your direction. 

And my aim is good.