The Language Experiment

September 1, 2014 / by Lavina Jadhwani, Classical Directing Fellow


During the teacher workshop a few weeks ago, Kevin challenged the participants to a language experiment -- we were to try to stop using the phrase "I feel like" as well as other generic, almost meaningless words such as "nice," "fine," "good," "bad," "ok," and "interesting." He pointed out that these words and phrase distance us from articulating our true emotions; instead of "I feel like," he challenged us to try out "I think" or "I judge" or "I hope." (Our list of phrases to be avoided is pictured above, on the left. Better choices are in the column to the right -- remember how great verbs are?!)
I have to confess -- I've been working on this for the last few weeks, and it's a LOT harder than I'd care to admit! On the day after the experiment was introduced, Mara Richards from Dallas Theater Center relayed that it had already improved communication with her fiance. "When I asked him how his day was, he had to tell me about it instead of just saying 'good.'" ("Another marriage saved!" Kevin wryly replied.)
My friend Michael and I were bemoaning our use of the word "like" instead of "said" today -- both four letter words, why do we substitute the former for the latter? It's not like "said" is arduous to, well... say. I started wondering if our reliance on the word "like" has increased due to the popularity of Facebook, which offers me the option of expressing that I like something with the mere click of a button. It reminded me of this article, where a blogger embarked on her own communication experiment, which involved not using the "like" button on Facebook for two weeks. 
Instead of clicking "like," blogger Elan Morgan would comment on her friends' posts with a thoughtful comment or memory. Two weeks later she reported, "After swearing off the Facebook Like... I became more present and more engaged, because I had to use my words rather than an unnuanced Like function. I took the time to tell people what I thought and felt, to acknowledge friend's lives, to share both joys and pains with other human beings. It turns out that there is more humanity and love in words than there are in the use of Like."
I'm realizing that like is a shortcut but not a shorthand and am working to rely on it much less. I participated in a radio interview in Lenox a few weeks ago, and was pleasantly surprised by how much more articulate I sounded when I simply chose verbs other than "like." Shakespeare invented thousands of new words during his career -- surely we can all take advantage of a few more of them!