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Why are my children, like, saying “like”?

I have terrible news: My girls have started saying “like.”

As in: “We’re, like, watching Word World, Mommy.”

You’re like watching it? What does that mean? Why are you saying “like”? Where did you learn that? You don’t need that “like” in there! It sounds silly! You don’t need “like” unless you’re saying you like something! Or something looks like something else! I don’t want to hear those “like”s!

These are among the things I’ve said to the girls recently when that insidious four-letter word pops up in their speech. It comes and goes, I notice. Sometimes they’ll say it a few times in close proximity, like (!) they’re trying it on for size. Then there will be days when they don’t say it. I’m wondering if maybe someone at school says it. I’d like to think that’s it.

But the sad truth is, I use it sometimes, too. Yes, I am known to my friends and associates as a bit of a grammer grammar and linguistics snob. But that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. Only that I aim for perfection whenever possible. However, “like” slips into my speech, too.

As in: “We have, like, nothing in the fridge.” Now, granted, this is sort of a comparative use of “like,” but would a four-year-old pick up on that subtlety? Nay. And could I have said “We have almost / basically / next-to nothing in the fridge”? Yea.

So now I’m trying to be uber-careful about saying “like.” When I do it, of course, I just sound like the urbane, educated and sophisticated but, you know, like, down-to-earth, super-cool woman that I am (cough, cough). But when the girls do it, they sound like tweens. Or six year olds, anyway. And I am just not ready for that. I mean, what’s next? Justin Bieber posters? Copies of Twilight books scattered around the house? Birth Control?

So far, the girls haven’t let any really bad four letter words slip. Well, that’s not true: our babysitter reports that Clio pointed to something on the Christmas tree a few weeks ago and said “what the hell is that?” (Probably one of my vintage homemade God’s eye ornaments, circa 1981.)

This is almost definitely my fault. I’d recently made a lion hand puppet say “what the hell is that.” Seriously — am I an idiot, or what? I was just really getting into the part. He had this sort of tough guy, Brooklyn accent (the puppet) and it was just, like, something he would say. I hoped it wouldn’t stick, but clearly it did.

I also have the bad habit of saying “Jesus,” which I usually remember to shorten to “jeeze” most of the time. So the girls have been known to say “jeeze,” which is frankly OK with me. As long as it’s not “like, jeeze.” That would be like, totally grody.

What unsavory words have slipped into your little ones’ vocabularies? (And which ones are a result of your bad habits?) Have you had any success in your efforts to purge them, or is it a losing battle, like princesses and Barbie dolls? (And Justin Bieber).

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Photo: Elena Clamen

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