Spring '13 TOC

  On Being, like, Articulate

In a class this semester, I have two students, both young women, who have the like-disease.  The fact that they’re female is a roll of the dice; the like-disease is epidemic and not specific to gender.  I’m just pretty sick of it.  So when I had individual conferences before Spring break, I told one of the women the truth: that since she was a clear and sophisticated thinker as evidenced by her writing, why did she undermine herself by including the word ‘like’ as often as four times a sentence?   “Gertrude Stein was like heavily influenced by like visual art and she like amassed quite a collection of it when she was like living in Paris.”  She thanked me at the end of our session and, aware that I’m the one handing the grades out, I can only hope she was being sincere. 

The other like-abuser came in later that day but I didn’t bring her even more pervasive tendency to her attention.  Why?  Because my instincts told me she wouldn’t want to hear it, would become resentful and, teaching these days, you need to pick your battles.

Last semester, in an online class, I got weary, quite early in the proceedings, of the use of the word ‘dude.’   The thing about an online class, it’s an opportunity to be articulate.  The discussions are posted and archived and when someone contributes something, unlike the classroom where it can dissolve by the end of the session, it stays there to be savored.  So the dude-droppings struck me as especially out of place in an MFA course.  When it was used so convolutedly in a sentence that I had the impression that I was being addressed as such, I pointed out that in a graduate program, especially in a context in which comments could be thoroughly considered, the discourse needed to be less casual.  I don’t know what the entire class thought, but one student who, by the way, is on the way to being a bold and adventurous writer, told me in an e-mail that I was impinging on freedom of speech. 

The exchange reminded me of a lecture I once attended in Pasadena by Harlan Ellison who, when an audience member intoned: “I have a right to my opinion,” Ellison replied, “No, you have a right to your informed opinion.”

It seems I’m developing somewhat of a history with this kind of thing. 

The word awesome, once a perfectly fine word, has been ruined for me to the point that I banned it from inclusion in class discussions.  The destruction of Pompeii was awesome, that smoothie you had this morning was mildly refreshing. 

I know a couple, both writers and one of them an educator, who are infused with the awesome-disease.  Whenever I see them, I start counting in my head to see how long it takes one of them to drop the a-bomb.  It’s never much of a wait.  They’re having an awesome week-end because of the awesome restaurant they went to before seeing this awesome movie.

There’s a grocery store I go to and recently a new guy was behind the counter.  “How’s it going?” he asked as I was paying for my purchase. 

“Do you really want to know?”  

He looked like I’d shaken him out of a deep sleep.  “What do you mean?” 

“Well, since you asked, are you really curious, or is it just something you say that I’m not expected to answer?” 

“Just doing my job, man.”

At the bank, apparently part of their job is to be greeters.  A beaming face at the door says, “Welcome to Wells Fargo.  Are you having a nice day?” 

“Yes, thanks.” 

In line: “Can we get you some water or some baked goods while you’re waiting?” 

“No thanks. Just making a deposit”

At the teller’s window:  “Beautiful out there, isn’t it?” 

“Sure, if it stops raining.” 

A startled look: “What?” And he actually leaves the counter to look out the window, then bustles back to report:  “It’s not raining out there, sir.” 

“Okay, thanks for clearing that up.” 

The word sucks comes to mind.  You hear athletes use it, and politicians and nine year-olds.  Sucks, as a term, is an unmistakable reference to oral sex.  I don’t like hearing it from anyone and everyone at any and all times. And that’s a whole ‘nuther thing.  The pervading cultural condition is that adults sound (and dress) like children,  and children sound (and dress) like adults. 

Bobbie Louise Hawkins, perhaps the only truly articulate person I know, has said that one of the biggest changes in her life was that, in her mother’s time, fucking was a covert verb that, in our time, has turned into a profuse adjective. 

It’s generally assumed that reading is on the decline.  But so is articulate and meaningful discourse.  Writers, as gatekeepers of language, have a responsibility not to surrender perfectly good words (awesome) and include meaningless inclusions (like) and sloppy designations (dude) and questionable depictions (it sucks) until everything and everyone sounds like everything and everyone else. 

Being a writer, why not write your words in the air as selectively as you would on the page?  It might suck at times, but it could be awesome, dude. 

You might even, like, wake somebody up.  

Junior Burke
Executive Editor

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Not Enough Night
Not Enough Night
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