Posted: Feb 06, 2012 4:24 pm
by HughMcB
Zwaarddijk wrote:Empty filler words have always been with us, it's just that until relatively recent, colloquial spoken language seldom has been recorded.

The filler's role is mainly to indicate that 'I still haven't finished saying what I was going to say (and I need to do some processing) so it's not your turn to speak quite yet'. Uhm is the canonical filler for this, but "like" ( as in the preposition, not the verb) has also long served this role, "you know" has a similar role that at the same time (may) cues for an indication that the listener still is with us.

An important thing to take into account as well is the recency illusion: it's very common that when something in common use starts annoying us, we assume it's a recent development for the worse. A lot of recent developments for the worse can be found in Shakespearan English, though.

Words easily get their meaning inflated, sometimes reversed, sometimes deflated. Awesome is going through a deflation, epic has lost its original meaning of 'telling a story' and turned into 'huge like a modern RPG game' - so there's both a deflation and a change of meaning. (Epic poem means 'a poem that is a narrative', not 'a poem that tries to be WoW or whatever'. It seems people that have heard of epic poems have mistakenly guessed it associates to two qualities often associated with such poems - bombasticism and a medieval or ancient setting, and great length. )

'I was like ...' is a rather peculiar but different phrase. Sometimes it's used instead of '... and I said ...', sometimes I gather for somewhat more internal states of feeling or such. I guess it's come about to kind of conflate internal state and utterance - something along the line of a thought somewhat similar to 'I felt like, and said, X'. Partially it's a filler, partially it's a functional unit that says 'the next phrase tells something I felt or said'.