by Ray Hudson
Fillers, or verbal interjections, as they are called are the sounds or words most of us fall into the trap of using, such as; uh or umm, or you know, or like, until they become unbearable. We all know that the best fillers are used to pad out or enhance hamburger or other foodstuffs, but when the vocal kind become the major part of one’s language, it can become irritating to the point where listeners may mentally tune out of the presentation, lose esteem or respect for the person speaking, or simply turn away.
Those who habitually use fillers may be doing so as a way of bonding with a peer group. But it can be a costly exercise when trying to impress others, such as a perspective employer.
It seems that the use of these verbal place holders is largely the result of a poor vocabulary and it is as if the speaker is trying to communicate an idea without being able to articulate it, hoping the other person in the conversation will ‘get the drift.’ I think they may also be used to guard against interruption from others who may want to participate in the conversation as most people wait for a pause to interject in a conversation. Here are some of the offending verbal interjections:
You know: is one of the most common phrases, and even though it’s actually a question, it’s not intended to solicit a response whether you know what the person is talking about or not, it’s an unconscious irritating ‘brain on hold message.’ In one interview with the New York Times, Caroline Kennedy used “you know” 142 times. When I’m subjected to a presentation where the speaker uses fillers such as these, and it’s generally the same one over and over, I often lose the topic and focus on counting how many fillers that are being used. I have actually interjected, in desperation ‘no, I don’t know’ after an excessive use of the phrase.
If you will: heard in conversation or dissertation where one is trying to be ‘higher’ brow than the hairline allows. Often used when the speaker or writer wishes to sound as if they are saying something clever or profound.
Like is another irritating interjection that seems to be the most favoured interjection with young women in particular, and is often compounded when used with ‘you know’. Although often attributed to Valspeak, which is code for Valley Girl slang from Southern California, it actually showed up as far back as the 19th century in a passage written by Robert Louis Stevenson in his novel Kidnapped: “What’s like wrong with him?’ said she at last.” Like, wow! Who knew?
Bitching or Bitchen: Another adjective I’m hearing more of lately, used in the positive. One source says it’s a ‘bad is the new good trend’ where negative words are used as adjectives to intensify words. Others being used include ‘sick’ ‘bad’ or ‘it kills’.
Wow what will this language sound like in 50 years? So, I’ll like, you know, see you next week, unless I’m sick, or bitchen or, if you will, a lottery winner, eh?
Contact Ray with any language questions comments of column ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org