“Like”

October 10, 2008

I’m treating myself to a little regressive reading this week. I picked up Meet the Austins by Madelein L’Engle and am working my way through to A Ring of Endless Light which I still hold to be on my top five favorite books of all time. Until I read Prodigal Summer in 2002 it was my favorite stand alone novel. But the other Austin books are just good fun, not serious or weighty or plotted around great world events. At the library when I looked L’Engle up I also found a couple of adult non-fiction books under her name with call numbers in the 921 region. To those who haven’t spent any parts of their lives obsessing on the Dewey Decimal System that might not mean anything but I was instantly alerted … biography. So I also picked up A Circle of Quiet which is apparently the first of a four book autobiography that L’Engle published beginning in 1972. Its beautiful prose about her life at Crosswicks, the new England farm house where she raised a family and about nature and the nature of writing. It reminds me of Annie Dillard, another great meditative author I should revisit someday soon. I wanted to include this passage, partly because its where I stopped last night before switching to fiction and partly because it struck me as something I’ve been trying to say myself for a long time in defense of a more convoluted language and … partly because I’m on a campaign to purge improper uses of the work like from my own language.
“Where would we be without the images given in metaphor and simile?
“Metaphor: She speaks poniards, and every word stabs. Simile: My love is like a red, red rose. ‘Like’ is our simile word. Madison Avenue is by mo means the first to misuse ‘like,’ but I was told that the man who wrote the famous “Winston tastes like a good cigarette should? did it with contempt for those at whom the commercial was aimed. Over and over again we hear “like? misused this way: I feel like I’m going to throw up; well, you know Mother, like I really do need it because …; tell it like it is. Every time “like is misused, it is weakened as a simile word.
“I’m not against changes in the language. I love new words and not only the ologies. I’ve just discovered “widdershins?: against the direction of the sun. In Crosswicks the bath water runs out clockwise; in Australia, widdershins. I love anything that is going to make language richer and stronger. But when words are used in a way that is going to weaken language, it has nothing to do with the beautiful way that they can wriggle and wiggle and develop and enrich our speech, but instead it is impoverishing, diminishing. If our language is watered down, then mankind becomes less human, and less free – though we buy more of the product.?
(page 17 of the 1972 HarperSanFrancisco paperback)

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