When Caroline Kennedy managed to say “you know” more than 200 times in an interview with the New York Daily News, and on 130 occasions while talking to The New York Times during her uninspired attempt to become a hereditary senator, she proved, among other things, that she was (a) middle-aged and (b) middle class. If she had been a generation younger and a bit more déclassé, she would have been saying “like.” When asked if the Bush tax cuts should be repealed, she responded: “Well, you know, that’s something, obviously, that, you know, in principle and in the campaign, you know, I think that, um, the tax cuts, you know, were expiring and needed to be repealed.” This is an example of “filler” words being used as props, to try to shore up a lame sentence. People who can’t get along without “um” or “er” or “basically” (or, in England, “actually”) or “et cetera et cetera” are of two types: the chronically modest and inarticulate, such as Ms. Kennedy, and the mildly authoritarian who want to make themselves un-interruptible. Saul Bellow’s character Ravelstein is a good example of the latter: in order to deny any opening to a rival, he says “the-uh, the-uh” while searching for the noun or concept that is eluding him.

more from Christopher Hitchens at Vanity Fair here.