Because life is a series of edits

Famous, Like, Speeches in Teenspeak History

In Education, Thought, Westminster on October 20, 2008 at 7:45 am

A few of my fellow teachers and I are on a crusade against the misuse of the words “like,” “sorta,” and “kinda.” The goal of “The Movement,” as we are calling it, is to combat what historian David McCullough calls “verbal diarrhea” in one’s conversations. We think of ourselves as fiber for the teenage vernacular.

Last week, we were interviewed by the school paper regarding our cause. As teachers who desire to show as well as tell, we thought it might be a good idea to suggest what famous speeches of the past might sound like in teenspeak. Below is the short list we submitted (feel free to add your own in the comments):

  • “I, like, think, therefore, I am…sorta.” Descartes
  • “Blessed are, like, the meek, for they will kinda inherit the earth.” Jesus of Nazareth
  • “The only thing we have to fear, kinda, is like, fear itself.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  • “I kinda have a dream, sorta.” Martin Luther King Jr.
  • “Mr. Gorbachev, like, tear down this wall.” Ronald Reagan
  • “The, like, only thing I can kinda offer is, like, blood, sweat, toil, and, like, tears.” Winston Churchill
I’ll let you know what comes about as a result of our efforts…and if our students still speak to us in the hallways.
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  1. “To be or, like, not to be;
    that’s sorta the question.” Hamlet

  2. Oh, that isn’t even on my radar. Living where we do, I’m just shooting for proper grammar. “Ma, will you get me a one of them?” I don’t think so. I’ll gladly invite the slang, but improper grammar is a killer.

    Cut them some slack Craig…remember how long you sported the pegged jeans. It’s an attempt to separate from grizzled old folks like us!

  3. Oh, I’ll join you on that crusade! The teen speak that annoys me most, though, is “whatever”. But “like” runs a close second.

    “A rose by any other name would smell, like, whatever.”

  4. There’s a difference, Kara, between making a statement and making a speech. Back in the 80’s (and okay, the 90’s), I was consciously making a statement with my pegged jeans – that being I had always thought of myself as a midwestern Don Johnson, even after Miami Vice ended. I was young then, but I knew what I was doing; I chose to peg the pants, even ten years after I should have. But I digress.

    My students aren’t consciously choosing their words; they are unconsciously blathering drivel, which is exactly what we are crusading against. I blame Hannah Montana, sports interviews, and the other usual suspects. Kids don’t ease up on proper English just to separate themselves from adults; that would take too much thought, which is precisely what we’re asking them to give to their words!

    For instance, for one of his classes, one of my colleagues gave an oral test to groups of three, announcing that any use of the word “like” would cost them a point. Much to everyone’s surprise, not one group misused the word. Not one! Victory!

  5. Okay, okay…I see your point. But just because they talk like that doesn’t mean they don’t understand proper English. They are readers aren’t they? I just remember my silly days of saying random things. Maybe you didn’t have those days? Maybe your only independence from your folks was in your pegged pant legs.

    Do you think it is more than seasonal? Are you on their turf? Seeing that when the bar was raised they understand how to speak in the classroom, I feel like they do understand.

    Is it a battle you will choose to fight with your girls when they are that age? Or will others be more important? Knowing their CC roots will be always reminding them of grammar rules, maybe they won’t make such attempts of independence.

    I just see so many other pulls on teens…it’s not my battle I suppose and I’m an English teacher by training. I feel, if a student is reading they understand how language is meant to be used. So I agree with you and I don’t agree with you. I am always riding my kids between the difference between may I and can I….So I think some is preference and level of annoyance as well as ingraining proper language skills from a young age.

    So, personally, I think the job of instilling proper speech happens now while our children are young and the battle is okay to fight as others aren’t on the radar yet. Am I just blowing smoke over something totally random. I’m not trying to be contrary like last time. I agree with you that the classroom should be a place where slang is set aside. But elsewhere, I’m not so sure. Cussing, well that’s a whole different issue.

    Certainly in your classroom setting the use of proper grammar should be expected. But does this extend into the hallway? Are you sporting a white jacket and pegged pants, feathering your hair and demanding proper speech in the cafeteria? Thanks for your post. See, my vote of OTHER counted. This is a very OTHER post. I like it!

  6. More than a few times, I cut students off in the middle of their non-sentences and told them they had used up their time with overuse of extra-grammaticals. Needless to say, they didn’t quite know what to do with that.

  7. I got a note from our 9-year-old today that said, “I luv u!” Sadly, my first thought was on how I was going to cure this tendency toward texting in her notes (and she’s never even seen a text message. Nor have I, for that matter). I decided to let it go on that one and thank her for the note. I’ll teach her later this week about the importance of clear writing in her notes. Kinda.

  8. Kara, isn’t our job our job to bring these kids into adulthood? Bring them out of the cave and onto OUR turf? Come listen for a day. They sound like imbeciles. Yes, the hallway battle is the most important. Re-read McCullough speaking at a COLLEGE graduation. It doesn’t stop in high school…it goes on and on.

  9. Am I the only one that sounded like an imbecile when I was young? My needs ran far deeper than that as a youth.

    That said, I had a youth pastor that was an extremely intellegent man. I admired and respected him so much that I worked very hard to sound intellegent in front of him. But, I never would have been corrected on a trivial point of grammar. He was more willing to speak to the heart of my issues, not the perimeter.

    I’m happy to be wrong, and it is a shame that they speak poorly. But aren’t the battles for their hearts more important? In the midst of that, I see Craig being the type of leader that is both loving and intellegent. That the student would strive for his good opinion with language and attitude. I certainly did as a counselor under him.

    All that aside. I do think the classroom should be the place of fine tuning speech and language. So, of coarse, correct them with grace there….but the hallways, really?

    I do understand the whole idea of youth is certainly a new one our culture adopted. So I see that point, I don’t see the age as one where we are to be permissive about attitudes, actions, and behaviours simply because they are teens. Maybe my own youth was too messy to have this conversation. I wish my own heart issues had to do with poor speech. Maybe it is a battle worth fighting.

    Great conversation. Thanks Craig.

  10. What about “literally?” Do you hear this going on? “I was driving so fast that I literally flew here.” In this sentence the word actually means the opposite of it’s dictionary definition.

  11. We have banned the word “like” from our house. It’s my greatest pet peeve. I’m with you on the crusade — can you also teach your kids that it is “should HAVE” and not “should OF”? Grrr.

    I think the most widespread grammatical error these days is saying “there’s” instead of “there are.” As in, “There’s some more green beans on the stove.” Double grrrr.

  12. Is it possible that some of this contentless jargon comes from children growing up in a culture where there is surplus of speech, which must be delivered at a frenetic pace to be heard? Seems like everday life contains little space or span of time without a voice of some sort to fill it. This feeling might just be us because we are such a talking family. But it might be part of a larger subconscious cultural need to express something, anything to fill the void of silence — whether it has content or not.

    Slang is fine because (or if) it carries meaning. – I’ve long given up the hope that even some of the best parts of the English language can remain static and preserved over the long term. And I want my kids to be able to speak the vernacular of the microculture in which they are immersed. But much of the “verbal diarrhea” under discussion here is contentless, like non-nutrative fillers in processed foods.

    Maybe the best thing I could do for my kids on this front is give them more time and encouragement for deliberate expression, fewer voices speaking to them constantly from TV, Toys, Radio, Computer (even when they are not being actively used), and a trained comfort in interludes of silence, even in conversation.

  13. I break many, many grammar rules in my speech… and drive myself crazy in do so! I can’t stand it, yet I catch myself throughout the day in my bad grammar habits. I’ve used “like” since high school. I say “kinda” and “there’s” incorrectly. I drop my “g”s… maybe that one qualifies me to be a VP nominee. I say “whatever”… and probably encouraged my daughter to do so… although she’s taking it a step further by perfecting the fine art of saying “whatever” and rolling her eyes at the same time.

    So. In summary, I second the notion that much of this verbal diarrhea is spewed out unintentionally. Or, perhaps, allowed to develop through laziness and a lack of self-discipline. Guilty as charged.

  14. My counselor calls them verbal ticks.

  15. i’m like, kinda amused at all this. it just amazes me. it’s kinda like relevant though since mccain chose a running mate who kinda talk just like some of these kids you all mention.

  16. Anyone reading this might be interested in my website, in which I attack head-on “Liketalk” . Please leave comments, and To the barricades!!
    – MB
    languageemergency.blogspot.com

  17. Like, whatever.

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