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I know that these two expression, in certain circumstances, have no meaning and are optional. I'm trying to figure out how to use them, even though they have no meaning.

什么

This has a meaning, (negation):

大家都是朋友,你客气什么呢。

On the other hand, this use of 什么 means nothing:

我没什么说的了。

来着

This has a meaning (forgetting something you should remember):

怎么写这个字来着?

This use of 来着 has no meaning:

你的女朋友到底是谁来着呢?

Just to clarify, I understand the situations where these expressions have a defined meaning. I just can't get my head around the usage when the expression is optional. I can leave it out, and I'm content with that. But for some reason my teacher in Beijing felt the need to show this to me, maybe to make me sound less 'academic' when I talk?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

I am a native speaker, and I'm no expert. But I do think you have some misunderstanding towards "什么" and "来着" in these examples.

大家都是朋友,你客气什么呢。

In this sentence, "什么" means "what ... for". The whole sentence means something like: "(Considering) we are friends, (I have to ask) what are you being 客气 for?" You can say it helped in expressing negation. (sorry I can't translate 客气 accurate enough)

But in the second example

我没什么说的了。

"什么" doesn't mean "nothing". On the contrary, it means "anything". And "没什么" as a whole, means "nothing". The whole sentence means "I don't have anything to say."

As for "来着", I think it means exactly the same (forgetting something you should remember) in both of your examples. And I can't think of any cases in which this word means anything else or has no meaning at all.

So to sum up, I don't think there is any cases in which these words has no meaning at all, at least not in your cases.

btw. "你的女朋友到底是谁来着呢?" should really be "你的女朋友到底是谁来着?" (No "呢" at the end)

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I completely agree with this answer. For the first part I think it's a rhetorical question to negate the need for courtesies. For the second part, 来着 is not completely meaningless but an informal way for past perfect tense. E.g. 你怎么这么慢?我换衣服来着。 What took you so long? I **have changed** my clothes. –  NS.X. Jun 27 '12 at 23:28
    
Is it correct to say “来着” should never be followed by 呢? –  Paul Jun 27 '12 at 23:53
    
@Paul: no, 来着 can be followed by in the following example, where adds certainty to the statement: “他怎么会不记得那场电影呢?他还哭来着呢。” (How could he not remember that movie? He cried over it!) –  NS.X. Jun 28 '12 at 1:53
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+1. And I think "……来着?" implicates a bit of defensive mood, meaning something like "Although I ask you about ..., but you shouldn't take it as I REALLY forget it. I just TEMPORARILY can't remember it." –  Silvia Jun 30 '12 at 17:46
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