shortcut to content

Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato

Like, You Just Ignore It, You Know

Page address:

The Republican (Springfield, MA)

August 28, 2006

Like, you just ignore it, you know

Author: Michael McAuliffe; staff
Edition: All
Section: News
Page: A01

Index Terms: Language

Estimated printed pages: 4

Article Text

It's a phrase that communicates a pause, maybe, you know.

At the Starbucks in Longmeadow a woman told her companion: "I realized that for me, you know, that'll be really handy."

At the Starbucks in Amherst a woman could be overhead to say: "Yeah, you know, she's got this relationship going with Suzanne."

At the Barnes & Noble Cafe in Holyoke—where Starbucks coffee is served—a man said during a conversation with a fellow sitting next to him: "There are so many that are free. You know, just buy it."

It seems as though, people everywhere say "you know." And it has nothing to do with Starbucks coffee.

The two words often sound out of place, seeming to add nothing to a conversation.

That would be, you know, the wrong conclusion.

"It's a kind of punctuation, so it can be as effective as a pause in writing to indicate a little bit of a pause when we speak," said professor Allan Metcalf, who has taught English for more than 30 years at MacMurray College in Illinois and who is also the author of "How We Talk: American Regional English Today."

In addition, Metcalf is executive secretary of the American Dialect Society and a member of the Linguistic Society of America.

Metcalf believes people come to say "you know" automatically, though its use is not recommended in public speaking.

"I'm not saying it's a great thing, but it's a natural thing," he said.

Donal A. Carbaugh, a professor of communication at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said "you know" is a way for someone to check and see if he or she is on the same page, as it were, with the other person in a conversation.

"I just think that it's a way of kind of pursuing and establishing some kind of common ground, some kind of common knowledge," he said.

While studying at Minnesota State University, Mankato, for a master's degree in speech, Stephen M. Croucher conducted a study of college debaters and found many used "you know." He also said it was more frequent among females than males.

Croucher believes that frequently "you know" reflected insecurity on the part of the speaker.

"I think they're just linguistically unsure of themselves," said Croucher, who next month joins the faculty of Bowling Green State University in Ohio as an assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies.

Croucher also believes southern California Valley Girl speak, the oft-mimicked talk of young females that is marked by the frequent use of "you know" or "like," in part accounts for more females than males in his study saying "you know."

Metcalf has been in every region of America, and he spent considerable time in different areas. He grew up in Chicago, attended college in upstate New York and northern California, and taught in southern California. For Metcalf, the use of "you know" is so common as to be easily ignored.

"Even as I hear it myself, or I hear others say it, I don't pay attention to 'you know,'" Metcalf said.

Carbaugh, whose books include "Talking American," believes "you know" is prevalent coast to coast on television and radio. However, he is not certain that the words are common in all parts of the country in daily conversation.

"I think most people hear it. But I don't think most people necessarily speak in that way," said Carbaugh, who was born in Indiana and has lived in Montana, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington. He has been at UMass for 20 years.

A man who makes his living with words is John M. Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster, the Springfield company that produces dictionaries and other reference materials. Morse thinks "you know" is giving way to "like," which is now particularly popular among young people.

"I think it serves the same purpose, which is to indicate to the listener 'my wording will be inexact,'" Morse said.

Morse also thinks "like" will eventually prevail.

"I am predicting," he said, "the use of 'you know' is going to be eclipsed by the use of 'like.'"


See microfilm for illustration.

Copyright, 2006, The Republican Company, Springfield, MA. All Rights Reserved. Used by NewsBank with Permission.
Record Number: MERLIN_4160681