Meaningless Words

A habit of most of the people I know has caught my attention: scattering meaningless expressions throughout their speech. I suspect they do it to fill in the empty spaces created when they pause their speech to stop and think. As far as I can tell, I’m not subject to that habit, probably because I was rigorously trained as a public speaker and learned to eliminate unnecessary sounds.

The utterances I’m talking about include but are not limited to “well,” “you know,” “so,” “and so,” “mmm,” and “um.” They get in the way of clarity and drain away the emotional power of elocution. All they do—and, as far I can tell, all they are intended to do—is make sounds to fill what would otherwise be silence.

In my experience, only speakers of American English litter their speech with these sounds. The British and Australians I have known didn’t do it, nor have I observed it with speakers of languages other than English.

What is it about the American character that leads us to spend so much time on meaningless sounds? I have no idea. But my guess is that the habit does not endear us to others.

2 thoughts on “Meaningless Words”

  1. Good article, Tom. The one “filler” that grates on me the most is “like.” It seems to be interspersed throughout our everyday dialogue…like…y’know. Just sayin’…


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