Oxford University Press has published a new (fourth) edition of Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, edited by Jeremy Butterfield. Here is a sample, on the use of like as a space-filler in conversation:
Many people below the age of, say, twenty-five, or rather more if they are American, seem incapable of constructing a single affirmative sentence without at least one like in it. One devoutly hopes that the unfortunates hooked in early life will be able to kick this American verbal drug as they mature, but the signs are not good: weaning them off this addiction looks as unlikely as eliminating crack cocaine.Such hyperbole, such melodrama. Shades of Lynne Truss. I’m like, Oy.
It is no doubt true, as highly technical academic papers have suggested, that it is not merely a “meaningless” filler, that it has its own complex rules, and that it fulfils subtle interpersonal functions. However, it is just as true that its overuse will cause listeners outside the speaker’s immediate circle, wider social group, or age cohort to ignore the content of the message completely, to assume that the speaker is little short of brain-dead, or, in extreme cases, to wish they had a discreet firearm to hand.