Words matter. We’re battered every day by the left telling Americans that anyone who doesn’t agree with its radical agenda is racist, judgmental, deplorable — even Neanderthal.
Nowhere was this clearer than in Montecito resident Oprah Winfrey’s slick interview of the Sussexes, as she pretended to be aghast at Meghan’s uttering of the “r” word and slyly suggested that the Duchess might have meant “silenced” rather than “silent” when she went on her “trashathon” of the royal family.
And Harry? His willy nilly use of “like.” Quentin Lees, a brilliant, British writer, who is a master at sarcasm, described the Americanization of Harry this way: “we (as in the royal “we”) found he had started saying, ‘like’ with the beginnings of an American accent.”
Thirty years ago I returned to the U.S. after living abroad for 21 years. It was an adjustment for the family. More so for me, who grew up in New England, and the children, who were born in Switzerland, than Richard, my husband and their father. He was British and couldn’t wait to get out of the U.K. in 1967, when socialism came in and he no longer recognized the country in which he grew up.
Our girls were 16 and 13, had grown up pretty well inoculated against the devastating cultural changes that were ruining the U.K. for Richard and the U.S. for me in 1967, sending us both to Switzerland. They had escaped drugs, loss of innocence and a virulent disease that I soon found infected their peers in suburban Connecticut. That disease? The inability to say a sentence without using the word, “like.”
We hadn’t lived in Connecticut for more than a few months, when the girls showed signs of the infestation of “like” into English. As teens who were trying to fit into new schools and make new friends, all in a second language, I was bothered that they were learning a language from their peers rather than their parents. I knew many of their educated and sophisticated parents and they didn’t use “like” unless they meant “nice,” “good,” “friendly” or an approval.
I asked one of my new friends, what was this language virus my girls and their new friends had caught? “Oh, it’s Valley talk,” said Mary. “It started in L.A., and all the kids speak like that. You’d better get it under control before it affects their speech permanently!”
Mary told me to say every time I heard “like,” when it was meant to be used as a word crutch : “like, like, like, what do you like? You’ll drive them crazy and be very unpopular, but it works.” And it did! And I was very unpopular, for a while.
I eventually cured my girls of the virus. But I couldn’t control how their friends talked. To save my girls from embarrassment, I didn’t try to cure their friends of Valley talk. That was up to their parents.
We moved to Santa Barbara a dozen years ago, and I immediately found that Valley talk had become an epidemic here.
Last year we heard that L.A. and other California cities are infested with millions of rats bringing typhus, plague and T.B., as well as COVID-19. Maybe Valley talk seems insignificant to the plagues that are attacking our cities. But it matters.
Recently I watched ABC talk show host Jimmy Kimmel interview Natalie Portman for her debut children’s book “Natalie Portman’s Fables.” The book cleverly disguises her causes — feminism, veganism, greenism, culture canceling — by rewriting three popular fairy tales with “wokenish.”
The actress/activist, cancel -culture advocate, now author, could barely utter a thought without using the crutch word “like.” It was painful to watch the talented 39-year-old Portman, a Harvard graduate, speaking Valley talk. I wondered why Ms. Portman’s mother, who must be of my generation, to whom Ms. Portman has dedicated her book for introducing her to books and language, never tried to correct her highly intelligent and gifted daughter’s grammar.
When my generation of oldies (who learned to diagram sentences) is gone and our children’s generation doesn’t know how to use a simple verb correctly, the demise of English, let alone our rich culture, is inevitable.
We hear about measles and other diseases, once nearly eliminated by vaccines, resurging because of the ignorance of a small group that swallowed a British hoax a dozen years ago. Granted, Valley talk isn’t going to kill anyone, yet. But if our children and grandchildren aren’t taught how to speak clearly without a word crutch, let alone be allowed to express independent opinions and ideas now that the radical left is in power, clearly our civilization and their lives are at stake.
When I was growing up, my parents called me out for the crutch phrase “you know.” Every time I used “you know” improperly, one of my parents would say, “No, I don’t know.” It cured me.
Richard’s parents told him, when he mangled the Queen’s English, to “speak properly.” Just look at the cultural mess the U.K. is also in now.
We vaccinate our children against deadly disease, we should now inoculate them against sloppy thoughts and language. How one speaks says a lot about who one is. Maybe we should introduce our children to Victor Davis Hanson, Steve Hilton, Candace Owen and other educated and thoughtful commentators who really know how to reach out through correct (not politically correct) language. Instead, we introduce them to the vocabulary of cancel culture.
Valley talk is arguably a blight on our rich national language, just as the streets and sidewalks of our cities littered with needles, excrement and garbage are a dangerous blight on our national landscape and a festering sore on American culture. It’s time to find a vaccine, administered by parents and teachers, against Valley talk.
Calla Jones Corner
The author lives in Montecito.