So, I was like, why does everyone say like and so in every sentence? Where did this trend come from, like, what started it, and is it actually grammatically correct to like, insert like into our speech in just about any position in a sentence?

Reward for anyone who can tell me the cause of its origin (i.e. cartoon, or star, or artist who uses these terms frequently and popularised its usage in this manner). And prove that overuse of any word is grammatically incorrect, or prove that there is no such rule for overuse.

  • 6
    What I'd like to see is why these filler words make us "sound stupid".
    – Incognito
    May 10, 2011 at 13:21
  • 20
    @user680 - Why? Because it's our mouth buffering while it waits for our brain to catch up.
    – UpTheCreek
    May 10, 2011 at 14:06
  • 6
    @UpTheCreek: It's more like a buffer underrun error message, when the brain can't feed the mouth fast enough.
    – Guffa
    May 10, 2011 at 16:00
  • 3
    The unpopularity of forethought when speaking.
    – Joel B
    May 10, 2011 at 16:57
  • 2
    Some speakers use much longer phrases as fillers, such as "know what I'm saying?" (Or "nomsayn" if they try to cram it in to the same space as "like.") I actually sat next to a guy on a bus who was "nomsayn" every sentence until he uttered this gem: "I'm just sayin', nomsayn?"
    – kindall
    May 10, 2011 at 19:48

7 Answers 7


Using "like" as in "this is, like, uncool" used to be strongly associated with Valspeak:

Many phrases and elements of Valspeak are stable elements of the California English dialect lexicon, and in some cases wider American English (such as the widespread use of "like" as a hedge).

This use of "like" is again mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on California English:

The use of the word like for numerous grammatical functions or as conversational "filler" has also remained popular in California English and is now found in many other varieties of English.

For a good description of "filler" usage see Fumble Finger's answer. A "hedge" is a word or phrase used to diminish a statement:

There might just be a few insignificant problems we need to address.

The party was somewhat spoiled by the return of the parents.

The idea here is that removing the bolded words would make the sentence stronger or more assertive. Using "like" as a hedge is extremely common and it seems to work as a universal hedge and may be used simply because it can be chained so easily with other fillers and hedges:

You, like, kind of smell.

I am, like, so hot!

This is, like, boring.

  • Is using a hedge incorrect?
    – Thursagen
    May 26, 2011 at 5:58
  • @Third: Good question. I don't think so. But apparently the term isn't universally acknowledged... so your mileage may vary.
    – MrHen
    May 26, 2011 at 11:26
  • it certainly isn't conventional.
    – Thursagen
    May 26, 2011 at 11:31

The practice of doing so is actually a field of research and the use of these words in such a manner can be classified as fillers, used while someone is busy grasping what they want to say and so on.

From Wikipedia we get a general overview of this:

Fillers are parts of speech which are not generally recognized as purposeful or containing formal meaning, usually expressed as pauses such as uh, like and er, but also extending to repairs ("He was wearing a black—uh, I mean a blue, a blue shirt"), and articulation problems such as stuttering. Use is normally frowned upon in mass media such as news reports or films, but they occur regularly in everyday conversation, sometimes representing upwards of 20% of "words" in conversation.[citation needed] Fillers can also be used as a pause for thought ("I arrived at, um—3 o'clock").

The idea of whether these are valid in language or not depends on whether they follow the rules of the language, and hence, can't be answered with a simple yes or no in this case. What we can say is that people do stand by the rules of syntax of their language and so can conclude that, for the most part, such 'fillers' are 'correct'.

On the other hand, there are certain individuals and industries that hold different levels of contempt towards users, and this can be appreciated; if, for instance, you were listening to the radio and the DJ incessantly hummed and hawed with (what is to the listener) superfluous speech, then the satisfaction of tuning in would be degraded.

If we examine that last part in a little detail it is easy to see the variable conclusions one could draw, either of a person or a company, based not on what is being said but rather what is in between what is being said, the gaps et cetera. I think it's safe to say that a great affinity towards this is not held by many.

To think about how it became so 'popular', I would reduce that to 'common', using the meaning of such which categorises social status. This might be a bit of a bold step, but I believe that where the above issues constrain one from committing, the lack of those constraints allows for another to become complacent and further habitually commit the act. That's a sweeping remark, I know, only skimming the surface of an idea; and there is without doubt a whole lot to delve into in order to give this thought any credibility; I, for one, think it would be an interesting line of research - right now I don't have the time or the inclination to do so, but encourage you to pursue should you care.

  • I attempted to find a research paper I saw about a year ago that describes what region of the brain these come from, triggers, and other factors, but I couldn't find it. I hope someone else can.
    – Incognito
    May 10, 2011 at 13:20
  • +1 "I would reduce that to 'common', using the meaning of such which categorises social status." Exactly. Think about the perception of someone who uses a lot of filler, versus someone who doesn't. The latter we would likely describe as "well-spoken"; the former more likely "immature".
    – Kit Z. Fox
    May 20, 2011 at 12:06
  • I learned this in a linguistics class, but as "hedge" instead of "filler."
    – xdumaine
    May 25, 2011 at 12:38
  • @roviuser: I think hedge might be just one type of filler to some linguists, but it's not that widely-used so far as I can make out. It came up in this other question... english.stackexchange.com/questions/24655/… May 27, 2011 at 1:00
  • why? Because it gives time for the speaker to figure out the rest of what they're going to say. It sounds better than 'um' (though not much).

  • is it ok? It is contraindicated in any written language and in any spoken language more formal than talking to friends.

  • is it grammatical? Yes in the sense that it has governing rules...come to think of it the rule seems to be that it can go anywhere.

  • Nicely formatted. Very nicely kept short and to the point. The only missing bullet is "When did this trend start? About the same time language itself started". May 22, 2011 at 17:20

Well, I have a partial answer for


So is a transition word. So, using it is grammatically correct. Though, the overuse can be annoying.

  • 1
    Every time I give a talk of some kind, I remind myself not to begin by saying "So, ...". Then I do it anyway, because I don't know how else to start.
    – Ryan Reich
    May 10, 2011 at 17:49
  • I have two non-native-English-speaking colleagues that use 'So' as a prefix to far too many sentences. Example, someone asks "How does this work?", and they start their reply with "So, uhh, it works like this". I find it annoying, ;).
    – cthulhu
    May 17, 2011 at 11:10
  • is there other filler that is so intensively used in our days? i find "like" to be more interesting, significant and disturbing, not the result of a personal but cultural tendency. and its case is not that of a word used by a non-native-English-speaking person. on the contrary, it is so typical for native speakers that foreigners use it because it makes you look "native", that is relaxed and relatively brainless
    – cipricus
    Mar 27, 2014 at 13:35
  • Like is a function word and it can be:

    1. a conjunction "I felt like I'd been kicked by a camel";
    2. a noun "A church interior the like of which he had never seen before.";
    3. an adverb "there was this funny smell—sort of dusty like.";
    4. a preposition "They were like brothers";
    5. an adjective "I responded in like manner".
  • So is a fucntion word as well and it can be:

    1. an adverb "I was so glad to meet him.";
    2. a conjunction "I worked hard so that I could buy a car."

Such category of words are much more used in discourses since you need them to form something that has meaning and is coherent. They are like the glue that allow you to write/speak and do it easier.

I think this is the main reason of why they are so popular. They serve much more purposes than a normal noun would, such as car, for example.

Note: Examples for like have been taken from the NOAD.

  • 7
    Except in this case they are like used as like markers for like pauses
    – mgb
    May 10, 2011 at 15:25
  • i do not think that the question is about the normal and correct use of the word, but about its very special use as a filler
    – cipricus
    Mar 27, 2014 at 13:36

It's two common short words, with a wide range of uses. They can be used to let the speaker pause, for, well ... like ... thinking, before continuing. This is common while speaking faster than thinking which happens from time to time (more often for some than others). Like when you think about how to continue this sentence, you know ... so ... well, that's like ... uhm ... yeah ...


There are different words and phrases like that, used by different people, getting more or less popular over time.

There are legitmate use for these words, but when overused it doesn't matter if they are used grammatically correct, they are still just useless filler words.

Some words are more used by young people, or people without higher education, but even well educated, successful people suffer from overused filler phrases. If you listen to some presentation from some of the most distinguished programmers from one of the largest companies in the world, and hear something like "..and then I'm just going to... go ahead and... paste the code here... and then I will... go ahead and... compile it... and then... I'll just... go ahead and... run it", you just want to scream...

I'm sure that this overuse of certain words are present in a lot of languages. I've seen the same in Swedish with words like liksom (like), alltså (so), i princip (in principle), precis (precisely), exakt (exactly), and lately ju (in fact) and typ (typically).

  • Most answers here tend to see this "filler" as acceptable - but the big problem with this one is that people use it so intensively that it replaces all others. Normally fillers should be personal and idiosyncratic - and that characteristic is what you and many other respondents here talk about. But "like" is different - it has nothing specific/personal/idiosyncratic about it. On the contrary, it may mark an effort to renounce any such tendency and to favour a sort of a relaxed, impersonal, diminished, inoffensive, brainless speech.
    – cipricus
    Mar 27, 2014 at 13:29

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