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Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 2002 / 26 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Like, you know, cut it out | There are times when I think my husband and I are really fighting the popular culture when it comes to raising our kids. After all, we teach them to respect our authority, to believe that certain things are objectively right and wrong and to make responsible and appropriate value judgments about their world. Good grief, we even spank them.

And we thought that was going against the grain.

But that may all be easy compared to the battle over "lazy language," as in the following sentence: "So then, like, he goes 'yeah' and so I go like, well, 'yeah,' too."

Recent news articles have even described how such language has become more and more "officially" condoned throughout our society.

Please understand that I'm not suddenly confusing myself with William Safire and his incredible knowledge of the rules of grammar and language. I'm certainly not against all slang or a relaxed use of English. When I write I sometimes begin sentences with "and," which surely would make my mother, a strict grammarian, turn in her grave. In a column a few weeks ago, I used the phrase "my husband and I" when I should have written "my husband and me," as at least one reader correctly pointed out.

But still. . .lazy language makes me nuts. It's just so sloppy, wasteful and soft-headed.

Good slang isn't .

Words like "phone" and "bus" were once slang for "telephone" and "omnibus," but are now accepted language in our culture. That makes sense. For one thing, the words are more efficient than their longer predecessors. Words like "cool," which survived long after "groovy" met its demise, have come to convey concrete meaning.

But "like" can be used as just meaningless filler, and "goes," when the speakers means "said," has "I don't care" written all over it.

Most tragically, it's everywhere. No one is immune - not school teachers, lawyers, doctors, newscasters and certainly not teenagers. Every time I listen to an adolescent deliver a sentence using "like" and "go" incorrectly, I want to shake him. But I know it would do little good.

True confession: I've even been known to let my language get lazy, too. My tongue has conformed too readily to the culture, and I have used "like" as a fill-in word. Sigh. But, I do experience real remorse on such occasions of weakness.

And even if my children are the only ones in the continental United States who are not allowed to use lazy language, I am committed to driving it from their sweet little lips.

As I've told them, they will hear it from virtually every person they know and admire, except maybe their grandparents. But for the Hart kids, it is completely off limits. (And for the Hart grown-ups too.) That means several times a day I find myself saying to my 8 and 6- year-old, "was it 'like' red, or was it just red?" or "did he 'go' 'that's great' or did he 'say' 'that's great?'"

My husband and I feel we have lots of allies in our other counterculture stands, but feel pretty much alone on this one. Still, while we're convinced it's an uphill fight, we're also convinced it's winnable. The payoff? Children, and later teenagers, who learn to use language precisely and thoughtfully, to communicate with care - and who don't drive their father and me and those few other likeminded adults out there crazy.

If I can win on this front with my four kids, then I'll feel confident enough to take on other seemingly intractable problems that appear to afflict young people everywhere.

Lousy posture is next on my list.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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