Teenagers make the same mistakes in every generation. They think they're the first people to hate their parents or develop pimples. They think they invented sex.
But the current crop of near-adults has invented a burp of language so annoying, so pointless, so inarticulate, that I pledged to clobber it out of existence.
It's the word "like."
No, not the perfectly acceptable conjunction found in dictionaries for centuries. The perfectly unacceptable tic that everyone between 2 and 21 trots out incessantly.
It's, like, awful. And I was, like, clueless about how to eradicate it, in my own family and others.
But not anymore. In my column of July 22, I asked parents to report methods they used to break kids of the habit. And I asked teenagers to comment on both disease and cure.
This came about because of a reader named Carrie McCairn. Her three teenage daughters are "like" addicts to the point where Carrie may throw a chair through a window.
One night, she listened as the girls phoned friends. Between them, they "liked" 315 times in two hours -- and never used the word properly. Carrie called me the next morning, desperate for help, or at least sympathy.
Ever since, I've been logging (and loving) replies from Levey readers. Here goes, likesters and their foes. May the linguistic ionosphere be a bit cleaner after what you're about to read.
Those who have taken the "like cure" say the best method is parental scorn.
"Cured Permanently" said her mother broke her habit by repeating "like" each time she used it. She "interrupted to do so, even though it was rude." And it didn't work at first. So Cured's mother upped the ante.
Each time Cured misused "like," mother would make daughter begin the sentence again. If that didn't work, the mother would leave the room, calling over her shoulder: "Come back when you can say it without the `likes.' "
Cured says it took weeks, but it eventually worked. Nothing else had. "Do not back down," she advises parents.
Jeanette S. Miller, of Northwest Washington, says her husband weaned a like-infested nephew with a metal clacker. Each time a "like" rent the air, a grating clack soon followed. The nephew has been a law professor for several years, Jeanette says, "and I know he doesn't like that usage anymore!"
Anne Durocher says her father would simply ignore her whenever she "liked" inappropriately. "I stopped on my own," she says. Jenn Karas, of Denver, says her mother would count aloud each time she "liked." Jenn says she was like-less within a week. And "Jenny of Reston" recommends getting a "metal bucket and a big bag of marbles." Drop a marble every time a child drops a "like."
Esther Klein, 15, came up with a novel defense of her like-addiction. She tells her parents they should be glad to hear "like" instead of other four-letter words. And Adam de Quattro, a "22-year-old know-it-all computer programmer from Rockville," points out that "like disease" is not a misguided attempt to convey a thought. It's "an involuntary stall tactic to give brain a chance to catch up with mouth." Of course, Adam, a pause and a breath would serve the same purpose.
I liked the solution offered by Marsha L. Bell, of Silver Spring. Whenever a teenager batters an adult with "like," the adult could reply: "No, I don't like."
Douglas A. Washburn says that whenever his two teenagers would start "liking," he would, too. "It reinforced how ridiculous they sounded," he writes.
Bernie Gilbert recommends sweet reason. His proposed dialogue:
Child: "So I'm, like, doing my homework . . . "
Bernie: "You mean you weren't actually doing your homework, just doing something like it?"
Child (abashed and flustered): "No, no, no, I mean . . . "
Mike Stakem recommends "one of those counters that the guards at the Smithsonian use to count people." I know teenagers who would exceed the click capacity of those gizmos in minutes, Mike. Still, nice thought.
Cynthia Bell says adults can be just as annoying as kids. She guesses that Mrs. Shakespeare often told William to stop "starting phrases with `wherefore' all the time."
Katie Shea, 18, said, "The best thing a parent can do is ignore it and wait for it to pass." Beth Charbonneau said time will even keep "like" out of the workplace. She doubts that in 20 years, young lawyers will say, "Like, your honor, I think that is, like, totally unfair."
Catherine Marquardt said peer pressure will eventually kill like-addiction. She recommends tape-recording an addict to let him or her "hear how they really sound."
Judy Prask underscored an important point: Likesters mark themselves as poor thinkers, and thus poor employment bets. Judy says she once knew a "$400-an-hour lawyer" who swore he would never hire anyone who misused "like" -- and never did.
Perhaps the best piece of intimidation came from T.P. Liveromme, a reader in Rehoboth Beach, Del. He says he shamed a 15-year-old friend out of like-land by telling the child that his tombstone would say:
Here lies John
He Is, Like, Dead
So, I hope, is the "like" habit. Maybe? Please?