Umm, like … yeah, you know, no problem, but.

When I become dictator, the following words and expressions will be banned forever from conversation: ‘like’, ‘and stuff’, ‘you know’, ‘sort of’, ‘ummm’, ‘aah’, ‘went’ or ‘goes’ (when meaning ‘said’), ‘no problem’, ‘but’ (at the end of a sentence or clause).

I would have people taught description and the articulation of abstracts.

In City Journal (Winter 2001), Clark Whelton investigates the liguistic phenomenon he calls, “Vagueness, the linguistic virus that infected spoken language in the late twentieth century.”

Inability to say things, Whelton says, is “shifting the burden of communication from speaker to listener. Ambiguity, evasion, and body language . . . were transforming college English into a coded sign language in which speakers worked hard to avoid saying anything definite. I called it Vagueness.”

Vagueness was on the march. Double-clutching (“What I said was, I said . . .”) sprang into the arena. Playbacks, in which a speaker re-creates past events by narrating both sides of a conversation (“So I’m like, ‘Want to, like, see a movie?’ And he goes, ‘No way.’ And I go . . .”), made their entrance. I was baffled by what seemed to be a reversion to the idioms of childhood. And yet intern candidates were not hesitant or uncomfortable about speaking elementary school dialects in a college-level job interview. I engaged them in conversation and gradually realized that they saw Vagueness not as slang but as mainstream English. At long last, it dawned on me: Vagueness was not a campus fad or just another generational raid on proper locution. It was a coup. Linguistic rabble had stormed the grammar palace. The principles of effective speech had gone up in flames.

In 1988, my elder daughter graduated from Vassar. During a commencement reception, I asked one of her professors if he’d noticed any change in Vassar students’ language skills. “The biggest difference,” he replied, “is that by the time today’s students arrive on campus, they’ve been juvenilized. You can hear it in the way they talk. There seems to be a reduced capacity for abstract thought.” He went on to say that immature speech patterns used to be drummed out of kids in ninth grade. “Today, whatever way kids communicate seems to be fine with their high school teachers.”