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The Valleyspeak Epidemic

How To Speak, Say Nothing and Simultaneously Reduce Your Intellect.

Don't get me wrong. I wasn't always like this, but when watching millennial (or younger) non-actors on American reality TV, I find myself increasingly annoyed, and subconsciously assessing their intelligence by counting the number of times the word "like" is used.

Since I'm a geek, here's the algebra that's looping in my brain:

IR% = (Ln / 100) / T


IR% is the Intelligence Reduction percentage

Ln is the number of times "like" is said

T is the time in minutes someone is speaking

For example, let's say we're watching The Bachelor and one whiz-bang contestant confidently states, "Like — it's like I really get you. Like, you're the whole, like, total package, like. You know? Like, I think I'm, like, in love." The grammatical assault continues for 2 minutes (T). You count 17 cringeworthy likes (Ln), and calculate the Intelligence Reduction percentage (IRp) as follows:

IR% = (17 / 100) / 2

IR% = 0.17 / 2

IR% = 0.09 which is expressed as a 9% reduction in intelligence

Let's assume our whiz-bang has an average IQ of 100 (although this could be considered a stretch, but we're being charitable here). Reduce 100 by 9% and the result is an IQ of 91. Painful.

If our whiz-bang had a higher IQ of 137, these same 17 utterances would reduce IQ to about 125 — a 12-point drop. I figure if you're that smart, yet indiscriminately blow a wad of "likes," you know better and deserve a bigger slap.

So why all of this angst? I blame my big sister, Diane. Along with a Phd in Radio & Television Production, she had degrees in English & Speech and was a college professor at several universities. Imagine her horror when she saw my report card with a "D" in 7th-grade English. It became a family intervention. "No brother of mine fails English" she roared. For the next year, she tutored me, relentlessly supervising my words. Eventually, I was grading her students' essays and ending up with "A's" on my own report cards. Although it was a tough lesson, I ultimately learned she did it out of love, and it sparks fond memories of our time together.

According to Wikipedia, "like" is Valleyspeak, functioning as a "discourse marker" during spoken communication:

When "like" is functioning as a discourse marker, the word itself does not semantically change the phrase or sentence. Instead, it provides time for the speaker to formulate what they will say next.

I hypothesize a bit differently. I submit that when you're speaking, you're not fully thinking and can't formulate a truly considered sentence.

If you've ever been a Toastmasters member (like me), you learned that using "like," "um" or "uh" earns you demerits, with fellow members delivering electroshock therapy critiques of your speech. Eventually you get it, and you stop. But hearing it doesn't stop bothering you.

The problem is unfortunately epidemic. "Like" has become so pervasive in American speech it diminishes our collective IQ. We've become brain-lazy. Rather than think about what we're about to say, we plow on, avoiding even one second of dead air that could be used to consider and formulate our words.

I know there are times when informal speech is appropriate and even fun, however if you're "dressing to impress," cleaning up your "likes" can make you sound even smarter.

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