You know, um, I’d kind of like to talk about filler words

It’s even possible to say ‘um’ in American Sign Language


So, like, the easiest way to make yourself cringe like you’ve never cringed before is to, you know, record yourself speaking and realise how much conversational chaff there is among the words you speak.

Filler words – ums, uhs, likes, you knows, actuallys, basicallys – aren’t something I usually notice in my, or anyone else’s, everyday speech, but whenever I conduct an interview for the paper, my dictaphone records all these verbal tics and more.

Suddenly, every sentence that an interviewee forms begins with “at the end of the day” and every question I ask has its clarity befogged by sort ofs, kind ofs and you knows. Having to transcribe one’s witterings is punishment for journalists who, like me, never quite got up to speed with their, you know, shorthand. Last week, though, I realised it’s possible to go one worse. I watched a film of an interview I’d done (where I was being asked the questions, rather than the other way round), and while the interviewer, a charming broadcast journalism masters student named Luke Garratt (if there are any telly folk reading, give that guy a job), was a consummate professional, I you-knowed to dangerously embarrassing levels. I also learned never to lean back in a relaxed manner when being videoed, because it makes me look as though I’m wearing a snood made out of my own neck fat. Good to know.

As I viewed the finished interview through the filter of a large glass of wine, my husband helpfully pointed out every time I rushed my words and said you know. But once it was over and we were chatting about life, the universe and the pet tortoise, he suddenly realised his own filler flashpoints. Yep, you know, basically, I mean. Even if you watch yourself, they march, ant-like, into conversation wherever they can.

However, what I didn’t realise was that not only do filler words help speakers – we use them when our mouth is moving faster than our brain – they can give listeners time to process the information being imparted. Recent research has show that the occasional “um” can increase the listener’s memory for the word that comes after “um”. It can also be harder to follow conversations when filler words aren’t used. And there’s another fascinating fact that made me feel better about my inarticulacy. Every language has filler words, including American Sign Language. OK, so fillers don’t make for the most elegant way of expressing ourselves, but they do have a place. But, you know, I’m going to try and use them a little more sparingly.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas