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Leading article: Welcome interruption

The thing is, we mean, there are these, you know, scientists who have, like, discovered something, err, significant. It is, basically, that not all verbal tics are, kinda, the same. Some are, um, important.

Ums and errs, in particular, it seems, are devices we use subconsciously to indicate that the word we are going to say next is particularly, um, revealing. The researchers who have uncovered this are cognitive scientists examining how children learn. What specialists as the University of Rochester's baby lab have discovered is that a child will pay more attention to a word which is prefaced by an um or an err.

The stumbles or disfluencies signal to the child that they are about to hear something new or difficult. Infants, once they are over the age of two, pick this up, and pay more attention. Parental burbles also give the child more time to absorb new words. It's a good job that no one told Colin Firth that before he began work on his performance as the hero in The King's Speech. It might have, you know, impaired his motivation in his battle for, err, vocal fluency.

And that could have seriously impeded his chances of picking up the, um, Oscar. After all, where would he have been without his best supporting, er, stammer.