They’re called discourse markers. Short utterances such as “um” or “uh” are cues to the listener that you are about to pause or that you’re placing emphasis that will become apparent in context. (ref: ABC News)
Then there is “Like” and “So.” I hate them, but am, oh-so guilty, of using them myself.
By my unscientific estimation, “Like” started creeping into everyday speech about 20 years ago. I don’t know who started it, or why, but clearly our spoken language is changing. It’s rarely ever written, unless you are, like, trying to be edgy or are trying to prove a point. (And because it looks stupid.)
If either of the Presidential candidates stood at their podiums on election night and peppered their speeches with “Like” and “So,” even we among the “Like-So”-guilty would be unimpressed. Our everyday vernacular may have become artless, but we certainly expect public figures to speak with more poise.
Why do we do it? Why, when we speak, do we end a statement with “So…”? Usually, “so” indicates there’s more to come, but in this new case “so…” is followed by nothing.
Why has the word “Like” become a way to build up emphasis? Or, replacing “she said” with “she was all like”?
“She was all like, I’m not gonna do that.”
“She said, I’m not gonna do that.”
The ‘she’ of the first statement has an implied body language and tone, and possibly did not even say anything. This is a description of a scene as filtered through the speaker – and in this way we are invited to speculate on ‘she’. The ‘she’ of the second statement is attributed with a quote – the quote is reported and there is no further speculation invited. Do both statements mean the same?
I do accept that discourse markers convey meaning, even as I reject “Like” and “So” as language hijackers that erode vocabulary and creativity.
As a writer, I have a dictionary, thesaurus and Latin dictionary within arm’s reach. The words that I type have for too long been shown more care than the words that come out of my mouth. For my part, I have started to make an effort to stop using “Like” or “So” as filler words when I speak.
For language’s sake. Even if the lexicon is against me.