About the incessant use of filler phrases…

I know several people who unfailingly utter all those three expressions before coming to the point they want to make. It is a rather annoying habit of ‘filling in’ between words, and to me, a sign of a sloppily thinking mind with no awareness about what the person really wants to convey. Blah, so to speak.

People talking

When I hear a person telling me, “You know,” I am inclined to say, “No, I don’t!” If the person already assumes that I know, then why tell me in the first place?

Furthermore, upon hearing “I mean,” with a pause attached, I want to ask, “What do you mean, come to the point!“ but usually let it go until the rather ghastly phrase, “It’s like …” is being flung at me.

“It’s like…” has been around for several years now – and it is not only expressed orally, it also shows up in written text where it is no less infuriating. E.g. He was like, “No this is not possible!” Now such phrases are also brought to us in printed form, for example in Times Magazine interviews.

Looking at a few more examples…

I was like, you know, I mean it was awesome…
…and then I kind of like really felt mad about her.
When he spoke with me it was, you know, like…


Are you shuddering? But wait:

I was very surprised to hear about a study by scientists at the University of Texas in Austin, who analysed conversations from transcripts recorded by a device called the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR), which sampled participants’ language use in daily conversations over several days. The main filler words (I mean, you know, like, uh, um) that are commonly used in spoken conversation indicated that those who frequently use “like” have more considered speech and therefore “far from being a sign of low intelligence, overusing the word may show thoughtfulness.”

Really? This is the result of a scientific study?

And then of course I had a flash of understanding why Texans would feel positive about the use of ‘like’ as it was one of their brethren, George W. Bush, who was notoriously using such phrases:

“The state can do what they want to do. Don’t try to trap me in this state’s issue like you’re trying to get me into.”

“There are some who feel like that, you know, the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring ’em on.”

“I hadn’t heard that…. I, frankly, have been focused elsewhere, like, on gasoline prices.

The question is, will this survey serve any long-term purpose? Will it help make people understand to speak clearly without any mumbled fillers, will it make them more aware about how they express themselves?

Meanwhile here’s a great opportunity for an awareness exercise: be a witness to what words you are using and refrain from uttering those catch phrases because they are, like, really maddening… I mean, besides, you know, those constant distracting text messages on your mobile…

The Scotch and the Irish leave you close to tears.
There even are places where English completely disappears.
Why, in America, they haven’t used it for years!
Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?
Norwegians learn Norwegian; the Greeks are taught their Greek.
In France every Frenchman knows his language from “A” to “Zed”.
The French never care what they say, actually,
So long as they pronounce it properly.
Arabians learn Arabian with the speed of summer lightning,
The Hebrews learn it backwards,
Which is absolutely frightening.
But use proper English you’re regarded as a freak.
Why can’t the English,
Why can’t the English learn to speak?

Professor Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady’

Bhagawati

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