Speechwriter pinpoints the moment the American language started to, like, juvenilize

In a City Journal piece nicely titled, “What Happens in Vagueness Stays in Vagueness,” Clark Whelton, speechwriter to both New York Mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani, remembers the first time he confronted the heavy use of “like”: 1985.

My acquaintance with Vagueness began in the 1980s, that distant decade when Edward I. Koch was mayor of New York and I was writing his speeches. The mayor’s speechwriting staff was small, and I welcomed the chance to hire an intern. Applications arrived from NYU, Columbia, Pace, and the senior colleges of the City University of New York. I interviewed four or five candidates and was happily surprised. The students were articulate and well informed on civic affairs. Their writing samples were excellent. The young woman whom I selected was easy to train and a pleasure to work with. Everything went so well that I hired interns at every opportunity.

Then came 1985.

The first applicant was a young man from NYU. During the interview, he spiked his replies so heavily with “like” that I mentioned his frequent use of the word.

He seemed confused by my comment and replied, “Well . . . like . . . yeah.”

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