I grew up during the unfortunate time in pop culture when “Valley Girl” speak was all the rage. Making statements that sounded like questions, using “like” a hundred times per sentence, and substituting “goes” for every other possible verb were ways to make you sound like a very cool person. For example, “I was, like, asking what he wanted for, like, lunch, and he goes, like, ‘I’ll have tuna’, and I went, like, ‘Thanks’?” Eloquence at its finest.
My mother, who would not even allow grandparents to use baby talk around Pandito and me when we were little, could not stand this trend. She has always dreamed of having well-spoken, erudite children who could potentially eat dinner at the White House with élan, not slack-jawed question stating Valley Children. We were not allowed to use “like” and “goes” in her presence, except in instances of actual analogies and someone literally going somewhere. She decided we would have a jar at the dinner table, and any time anyone used one of these speech tics at the table, they had to add five cents. I know this sounds hilarious now, when people throw away any change less than a quarter, but back then, five cents was a lot of money. Twenty speech tics throughout the week would leave a little panda with no allowance.
A lot of families have swear jars or other jars used for monetarily shaming members out of some bad habit and they then take the money and go on a cool trip or buy a NordicTrack or some other awesome thing for their homes. In our family, the five cents jar was more of a symbol of the English language’s sputtering death rattle against the oppression of the Valley Girl. We literally never put one penny in. Instead, just saying “Five cents”, which sometimes also applied to my mom’s other nemesis, “Shut up”, was enough to shame the habits of poor and lazy speech right out of Pandito and me.
I say shame like it’s a bad thing, but I am flooded with gratitude whenever I think of “five cents”. I now work in an office with people who are incredibly smart. They know math I will never know. They understand the economy in a way I didn’t believe was possible (like, beyond the terms “good” and “bad”). But the guy who sits in front of me and talks on the phone for a minimum of two hours a day, discussing economy with other people in the world who mutually understand it, can truly say “like” six times per sentence. I don’t even know how he does it; I would lose my train of thought. It makes him sound like a tween. I wish I could implement my own “five cents” jar at the office. I could afford to take an extra week of vacation.