David McCullough: AWESOME speech

Historian David McCullough was the commencement speaker at Boston College’s 2008 Graduation.  He gave a truly awesome speech that I think you all, in particular, would appreciate.

I haven’t read any of David McCullough’s books, but I saw him on The Daily Show and thought he sounded awesome.  (I’ve been meaning to read more history and fill in the gaps in my education.  Considering that I now work right by Borders, I will probably buy one.  I’m already averaging buying 1.5 books per week.)

Here is the best quote from his speech:

And please, please, do what you can to cure the verbal virus that seems increasingly rampant among your generation. I’m talking about the relentless, wearisome use of the words, “like,” and “you know,” and “awesome,” and “actually.” Listen to yourselves as you speak.

Just imagine if in his inaugural address John F. Kennedy had said, “Ask not what your country can, you know, do for you, but what you can, like, do for your country actually.”

Word, man.  Word.

Click here to read the rest of his speech.


6 responses to “David McCullough: AWESOME speech

  1. Consider reading Robert Hartwell Fiske’s “Dictionary of Disagreeable English: A Curmudgeon’s Compendium of Excruciatingly Correct Grammar”. (Yes, I know I put quotation marks around the title, but I cannot italicize or underline in these comments.)

  2. I’ve got, like, this, um, dream…

  3. I preferred the version The Onion did in Our Dumb Century: “Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘I Had a Really Weird Dream Last Night.'”

  4. I’m assuming that your double use of “awesome” in the preceding paragraphs was deliberate irony?

  5. That’s fabulous, Kate. I will definitely use this with my first year students when I explain to them the issues with informal language that I see appearing in “formal” papers.

  6. I listened to an NPR conversation about the usage of these words, and the guest speaker said that “like” was usually used when the speaker of the sentence is unsure of what they’re saying.

    “I left the house, like, at three o’clock.”

    Are you sure you left at three o’clock? Could it have been 2:30? 3:15?

    “You know” is a common ground phrase to connect or reconnect two speakers, and it’s often used to softly introduce a suggestion.

    “You know, we could go to the mall today.”

    “I hate going to the mall, you know?”

    “You know, we could save a lot of money by using this other company to do our filing for us.”

    Such suggestive or community building phrases happen a lot in women’s speach (another NPR article), whereas men tend to just throw the suggestion out there as thought it were a foregone conclusion. Their speach tends to reflect authority, while women’s speach reflects teambuilding or the need for affirmation. Women often use “I believe” and “I think” to introduce sugguestions.

    “Actually” could be a semi-polite, semi-authoritive phrase to use to disagree.

    “Actually, that company will not save us as much as this particular company will.”

    Actually, I use “actually” and “like” a lot. I like to think that given the social context, there’s a lot to forgive for using them. It’s not necessarily being lazy, but often used to be non-confrontational.

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