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Zoë Triska Headshot

If You Use This Word, People Will Think You're Stupid

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I have something to admit: I am guilty of a horrible crime.

Sure, it could be attributed to growing up in Beverly Hills; Californians are known for this sin. I can blame my past on reckless youth, but there's really no excuse for my heinous behavior any more.

I'm embarrassed to admit it publicly, but here it goes: I have a problem with consistently using the filler word "like."

Why are we misusing this word, and when did it come into such wide usage? Well, on the West Coast, it's used by plenty of people liberally. I'm pretty sure "like" is generally associated with 80s teenage valley girls, however, its first filler usage appeared publicly in a September 15, 1928 New Yorker issue cartoon (if you're a subscriber, you can see it), in which two people are discussing a man's work place: One person says, "What's he got-- an awfice?" and the other replies, "No, he's got like a loft."

Its popularity picked up in the 1950s with Maynard G. Krebs, a beatnik character in the TV series Dobie Gillis, who used the term with gusto. Icon Frank Zappa added to the madness when he used it in his 1982 song, "Valley Girl" - the probable reason why we always think of California girls when we hear it. From an etymology viewpoint, this Oxford University Press blog points out the history on where the current usage of the word "like" was probably derived from.

The unfortunate thing about the way we use this word, and something they don't tell you when you're in the 4th grade, is that it makes you sound ridiculously stupid.

When the first "like" pops out of my mouth, I can already tell that someone is immediately taking me less seriously, something I already have a problem with, as a 24-year-old woman working in media.

It goes something like (appropriate use of word as conjunction) this:

Me: "Hi, I'm Zoë, the Associate Books Editor for Huffington Post Books."

Serious publishing person: "Nice to meet you, Zoë."

Me: "We're, like, doing a TON of interesting things right now on our Books page. It's, like, really cool."

Serious publishing person (stony, tight lipped look, wondering if there's someone else they can talk to, because I clearly have no authority): "That's really good to hear." (now looking towards Andrew, our British, automatically intelligent-sounding Editor).

How, my dear readers, do I kick this horribly nasty habit?

As a self-professed Beverly Hills girl, I really enjoy the following movie clip. The movie Clueless is, I think, a brilliant modern adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma. It takes place in Beverly Hills and follows a teenage girl, Cher, on her quest to set other people up romantically, with both good results and bad. She, too, is quite guilty of saying the word "like." Though I imagine you all already know how dumb this word makes you sound, consider this video the ultimate proof. Cher is participating in a debate in class, and uses "like" (as well as many other filler words) a ridiculous number of times. Needless to say, she doesn't end up doing very well in the class.

What embarrassing word do you still find yourself using? Or, do you have any advice on how I can stop using this awful word? Let me know in the comments!

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