Thursday, February 24, 2011

"It's, like, y'know..."

One of the perpetual banes of my existence as a speech instructor is those filler words that dot our day-to-day interactions.  Things like "like" and "um" and "uh" and "y'know." We all use them -- even me, and even the president -- as ways to fill the gap while we compose our next thought, but they have the cumulative effect of diminishing our intelligibility. Clark Whelton reflects on the omnipresence of "like" and other verbal flotsam in our discourse:
By autumn 1987, the job interviews revealed that “like” was no longer a mere slang usage. It had mutated from hip preposition into the verbal milfoil that still clogs spoken English today. Vagueness was on the march. Double-clutching (“What I said was, I said...”) sprang into the arena. Playbacks, in which a speaker re-creates past events by narrating both sides of a conversation (“So I’m like, ‘Want to, like, see a movie?’ And he goes, ‘No way.’ And I go...”), made their entrance.
One person who's taken a very positive step to help reduce the phenomenon of the phantom filler in our vocabulary is my friend and former teacher Marco Benassi, professor of speech at College of DuPage (one of my alma maters), who created the terrific "Um Counter" app for the iPhone which I can't recommend enough as a way to increase our collective ability to speak clearly and filler-free. Anyone know how to get this to President Obama?

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