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For instance, I have a friend who just can't help himself constantly saying "ok". He'll say things like "ok, now we're going to [...]" or "now we've seen that, ok", and I'm just wondering what this practice is called.

I used to think this sort of thing was called a "verbal tic", but according to Wikipedia:

Phonic tics are involuntary sounds produced by moving air through the nose, mouth, or throat. They may be alternately referred to as verbal tics or vocal tics, but most diagnosticians prefer the term phonic tics to reflect the notion that the vocal cords are not involved in all tics that produce sound.

  • A personal 'interjection'. – user66974 Jul 25 '14 at 9:21
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    Wikipedia gives the formal medical definition, but verbal tic does work colloquially. – Andrew Leach Jul 25 '14 at 9:23
  • It's a 'pragmatic marker'. If it's largely automatic or to give him a moment to formulate the next sentence, it's a 'filler' and is speaker-orientated. In other circumstances, when it's used to grab attention ('Right!/OK! We're now going to ...') it's audience-orientated and a focusing particle (perhaps to gain the audience's initial attention, perhaps signalling a transition in dialogue). – Edwin Ashworth Jul 25 '14 at 9:24
  • That quote from wikipedia doesn't actually say that verbal tic has the same definition as phonic tic. It just says that the former can also be used for the latter and that the latter is preferred precisely because the former (along with vocal tic) is likely to be interpreted differently. – Rupe Jul 25 '14 at 10:32
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Crutch words comes to mind. Although I have difficulty finding any official definition, I have heard it /read it very often ( mostly used by speech trainers ).

Here's an example of a text where the expression is used (not to be seen as an official reference, ofcourse):

Top Ten Crutch Words

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In linguistics, these words are often referred to as filler words.

This includes both vocal pauses (sounds like "er" and "um")and discourse markers such as "you know?" and "so" and "like".

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The general term 'vocalized pause' is used to describe several words, like 'ok', 'well. 'mmm', etc. which are sub-grouped under headings: turn-taking cues, turn-yielding cues, turn-maintaining cues, etc. The vocalized pause is a subject of extensive study by a chap named Duncan.

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