I'm listening to the radio and they're interviewing Dove Cameron about her hit, Boyfriend. The DJ asked her if her acting career has helped her with her music career.

The same energy, for me, is what they are.

It is the most predictable celebrity interview exchange ever uttered, remarkable only for one word that repeats and repeats.

It's a really funny one, and I've worked at the station for more than 10 years. Sometimes a boss will mention it if a DJ says it too much. I was aware of it.

Why do people have a problem with it? Is it because it won't go away? In 1992, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a robust defence of the word and the way it carries, responding to what had already been a decade of criticism. The debate was not settled by this. Linguists agree that usage of the word has increased every year since then, and in one five-minute exchange on Love Island in 2017, the word was uttered 76 times, once every four seconds.

It’s just seen as a bit lazy, a bit dumb

It was a natural part of speech when I was at secondary school. I describe the interviews I did for this piece constantly. When I do, I use it as a crutch, signalling to the person I'm talking to that I'm listening and thinking. Despite its long history and widespread use, it remains enraging.

It makes speakers sound stupid. When Michael Gove was education secretary, he used an update to the national curriculum to require students to speak in standard English in all British schools. The idea that there was only one way to speak English was reinforced by this. Christabel Shepherd, the head of a primary school, banned the word because children say it when they are giving you an answer. They use the word all the time and we are trying to get rid of it.

Scores of recruitment specialists and public-speaking coaches have publicly decried the rise of the word and say that those who use it prevent themselves from getting opportunities. One law firm in America sent a memo to its female employees, telling them to learn hard words and stop saying them.

There is nothing that will [lead you to being] dismissed more quickly than a few too many ‘likes’
Peter Mertens

A group of mostly old and white celebrities and Spectator columnists in the UK are against the use of this chorus. In 2010, Emma Thompson complained to the Radio Times that she went to give a talk at my old school and the girls were all doing their things. Gyles Brandreth complained that it made him sound stupid.

Humans have an innate tendency to judge. Carmen Fought, professor of linguistics at Pitzer College, says that people who are very liberal in other aspects of things still have this thing about language. In Shakespeare's time, there was a schoolmaster who said, "Don't say that, it sounds so tacky."

There is an element of sexism here and the detractors say that it makes you sound girlish and stupid. They are wrong on every count.

The first point is that "like" isn't just a word. It is an incredibly versatile and dynamic word. The linguist who wrote a book on the word outlined its many uses. The smell of cooking and the taste of it are what it is used for. The ones that are the subject of ridicule. The first of these is the quotative, like the spag bol he cooked for me last night. You can tell an anecdote that makes you sound smarter than you actually are because you are not promising exactly what was said.

It allows you to tell a story without promising complete accuracy

The other hated things are as a discourse marker. It was super quick to cook, and what is known as a discourse particle, which goes in the middle.

Many of these uses overlap in a rich way. If you say, "He was seething about the pasta sauce, but at the same time highlighting you are approximating their response, but pausing to highlight that you are thinking", you are quoting someone's reaction, but at the same time highlighting you are thinking. That one word creates a sense of familiarity between you and the person you are talking to.

The word's flexibility is nothing new. The Frank Zappa song Valley Girl, in which his daughter, Moon Zappa, impersonates a California bimbo, is typified by the word "like", which most people think is from the 80s. It goes much further back. In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which was written at the start of the 17th century, the Duke is told to favour Cesario if he wants to be advanced.

He writes, "All these three, belike, went together." If you take away be, you will get a charming modern sentence: "All these three, like, went together."

It's easy to imagine how this use could become a way to break up speech. Perhaps it was aided by the use of the word to mean roughly, or thereabouts. More people now complain that the more masculine uses sound stupid, despite the fact that they could also be described as filler words.

Young women in the 1980s probably invented the quotative ‘like’

The quotative was invented by young women in the 1980s, but they are not the only ones using it. According to research, men use the discourse particle more than women do. It adds nothing to the meaning of a sentence and is the biggest lie about it. Language is almost always random. Fought says that you can stick that like in anywhere. He is wearing a hat. That makes perfect sense. How old is your brother? It's a little more unusual. It would be a very strange context to hear that. There are patterns. There are ways to do it better.

It is a way of signalling and helps with focus. I'm showing you that this is the important part, this is the part that connects, it's checking in that you and I are connecting. It is an incredibly useful part of speech. It would be easier for us to leave it out if it were meaningless.

This is what I think when I listen to Radio 1 or watch vlogs by young women like the TikTok star Emma Chamberlain, both of whom are heavy users. They use language in a way that is almost instinctual to convey meaning. It is almost like magic.

The debate about punishing children for saying the word there are more serious impacts can be fun. If you want to teach a child to speak different languages, that's fine. It's very harmful to demean and criticize the way someone speaks.

Why does society still bristle at it if linguists are mostly agreed that it is, at least in some contexts, no bad thing? The author of How You Say It, a book about linguistic bias, says that taking someone to task for the way they speak is one of the last societally. It's easy to think that you're not being biased, racist or sexist when you're interviewing candidates for a job. Many of our perception of who is a good communicator can be influenced by other forms of bias.

It’s a good example of a word where young women are chastised for talking a certain way

Young women are chastised for speaking a certain way even though that isn't in the linguistic data. It's similar to uptalk, ending your sentence by going up. It is assumed that it is a Valley girl way of speaking when in fact it occurs with lots of different groups.

The advice columnist in this magazine received a letter from a mother with a dilemma. I know it's not the end of the world, but it makes her sound stupid and uneducated when she wants to come back.

I hope she would be reassured by the fact that the best linguistic studies suggest that people who say "like" may actually be more intelligent than those who don't. The Journal of Language and Social Psychology found that conscientious people are more aware of themselves and their surroundings.

I have a PhD, and many people would consider that to be a sign of intelligence. This judgy thing is natural, but it is not helpful.