Words vs. Silence. When speaking to a North American, you know the words will win. We just can’t stand silence. It’s unthinkable to enter an elevator without acknowledging the others’ presence with a little small talk. In 1976 anthropologist Edward T. Hall put a name to this familiar face and dubbed it a low-context culture.
In a nutshell, the difference between a high or low context culture is that the latter relies on words to communicate whereas the former leans on the cultural understanding that is shared between the speakers. Fewer words are necessary in a high-context culture (Spanish for example) as the literal meaning of each word is less important than the context.
We anglos don’t, however, always know what to say. Whereas a person from a high-context culture might look up to the ceiling while contemplating their answer (something that, by the way, makes North Americans very nervous), an American, Canadian, British, Australian or New Zealander will fill the gap with what we call crutches.
“I was like, talking to him when he like, all of a sudden told me he was like, being promoted to CFO.”
“I literally called him a thousand times today.”
“So basically, we’re in this for the long haul.”
Crutch words don’t often add meaning to your message and sometimes even subtract veracity from our statement as in literally. If the above example were true, the speaker would have spent over 8 hours on the phone calling one person repeatedly.
I suggest you do not attempt to pick up these tics. Like is considered especially lazy and quite inappropriate in an adult’s speech. I do however invite you to investigate more crutch words that native speakers use and how to interpret them. It’s important because basically, we use them a lot.