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    I, Like, Know

    Dear Figaro, I have a friend who says “you know” a couple dozen times in any 5 minute conversation. Why does she do this? How can it be stopped?
    Fred, from “Ask Figaro”

    Dear Fred,

    “You know” serves as a figure called a parelcon (pa-REL-con, meaning “redundancy”), a place-filler that gives the speaker’s brain a few more milliseconds to think. “Like” is a more common parelcon these days, and it has its uses in moderation.

    “You know” is actually a parelcon from my generation. As I say in my book, my generation was (rightly) uncertain about its ability to communicate. “You know” means “Are you with me? Do you get what I’m saying?” “Like,” on the other hand, reflects a group too timid to stand firmly on one side of anything.

    So how do you stop the non-stop parelcon?

    1. The Obnoxious Way:  Say “Yes, I know” or “No, I don’t” every time he says “You know.” You will make your point, and he will hate you.
    2. The Supportive Way: Mention his problem and offer to help. Set up practice sessions where you beep a horn every time he says “You know.” This feedback method does work. Though he’ll probably end up hating you anyway.
    3. The Fun Way: Make it a drinking game. Gulp every time he says it. If he participates, he’ll be too drunk to hate you.


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    Reader Comments (10)

    YouKnow-ers Anonymous might be the logical next step.
    August 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNeo Lombardi
    Hi Figaro!
    I think the ubiquitous "you know" is a method of seeking constant reassurance that the listener is listening, or is seeking agreement, a key component of successful rhetoric, Burke's "unity." Is there a term for that among the ancient Greeks?
    August 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKarol
    The closest I could come to it, Greek-wise, is Ethos, which is all about identity. Nice point, Karol.

    August 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Could it also be that the use of like so many times in modern conversation reflects a desire to find similarity and common ground through familiar experiences and objects? Couldn't it be a saavy move that you can't appreciate from your generational perspective? I don't think it's good analysis to broad-brush condemn rhetorical practices because they mean something negative for you.
    September 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSteve
    Dear figaro, when are you coming back? We miss you!
    September 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAndre
    Another good semi-rhetorical drinking game especially appropriate for an election year is the Buzzword Drinking Game. Each person picks a good cliche or buzzword for a debate or speech. Hear your buzzword? DRINK!
    September 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDjr
    I forgot to add that I think the appearance of "like" in speech sometimes reflects our cultural shift to a visual (or visuo-literary) one. The "like" often precedes the speaker's change in medium from strictly verbal speech to acting out or mimicking in expression, manner, or tone, etc. "Like" signals that the speaker is about to resort to a vivid, multimedia rhetorical simile. :)
    September 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKarol
    I used to do the same thing until a friend pointed it out to me , I hadn't been aware that I was doing the same thing, however, apparently I was only using the "parelcon" when I was descibing something that I maybe thought the person wasn't quite understanding and perhaps I was looking for affirmation. Mostly though after being told that I only did this under certain circumstances, I think it was because I was nervous about the subject or that I had to explain it in front of more than one person. In other words maybe your friend is experiencing a nervous habit and like myself doesn't realize it. I'd tell them that you notice they do this often and see if they would want to try and correct it themselves. If he or she gets really defensive then I'd assume it is so. Maybe be assuring that you just think it's funny and try not to offend them in case they ARE that easily offended. I think ultimately they would appreciate being aware rather than ignorant? I know I did.
    September 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterteresa
    I read an article a while back (pre-internet, so no link) that said the things we throw into speech ("um" was the primary focus) actually keep our listeners listening harder. Maybe this serves the same function.

    I also wonder if it fills space, and prevents other people from getting a word in edgewise.

    As I side note, during my Spanish Language final, my teacher had to stop me because I was saying things like, "QuerĂ­a ir a la tienda, you know, pero mi hermana no, you know..."
    June 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike
    You have very interesting posts. I must admit I also use You Know and Like, especially the former when I am not sure about something. I really need someone to stop me from saying these in an obnoxious way. Old habits just die hard, I guess.
    July 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEssay

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