Recently Added

Um… like… you know…

October 18, 2013

My daughter and I had a chat about her English and Drama classes en route to school this morning. Specifically, we talked about voice and clarity in presentation. Before we arrived at the school, our conversation turned to 'space fillers,' a topic that must come up for most parents in exchanges with teenagers. Um… like… and you know are no more than space fillers, but where do they come from? When we've got something to say, we say it. When we can't think of what to say next, we say, "um… like… and you know". Why is that?
What was interesting about this chat was the little light that appeared to come on for her when she realized that these interjections are derived from her anxiety over the natural silence between thoughts. Thoughts don't always come in a continuous stream, and there's no good reason to fill the empty spaces between them with noise that has no meaning or value. Silence, as the saying goes, is golden.
Sometimes, people purposefully (and even deviously) fill these empty spaces so as not to give up the floor, as in a filibuster or an online chat forum. In both the political arena and online chat forums, there are people seemingly dedicated to completely squeezing out any opportunity for other voices to be heard, so as to paralyze productive conversation. With any small sign of meaningful exchange, the miscreants proceed to carpet bomb the entire landscape with nonsense. There's no hope for them to be unlearning bad habits here. These people know exactly what they're doing. This kind of behaviour is intentional, and reflects no fear of silence, but rather, misplaced values, sociopathy, and a serious lack of character.
Most of the time, however, I suspect that um… like… and you know express personal anxiety over a perceived need to hold the attention of one's audience, and the fear that prolonged silence will result in the loss of that attention.
My daughter appeared to catch the notion that she will show more respect for her audience by demonstrating that she's quietly working to employ the best words and phrases, rather than babbling a nonstop stream of annoying fillers. Share thought #1. Stop. Listen. Think. Share thought #2. Stop. Listen. Think … and so on.
She appeared to catch the notion that, through conscious effort and slower speech, she can train herself out of using these space fillers, much in the same way I've trained myself out of the uniquely Canadian interjection, 'eh,' when in the company of Americans. They find 'eh' far too … like, entertaining. Pretty much, 'eh' has left my called-upon vocabulary, though it does occasionally creep into Friday night hockey change room banter. I suppose there's something about hockey change rooms that invoke a primitive Canadian cultural reversion of sorts, turning us all back into teenagers.
As for my daughter, I'm sure that, with effort, she'll find a way to free herself of this conversational white noise. As for the political arena, and online chat forums, I wouldn't, like, place any bets, you know, in favour of success.
I don't have anything terribly profound to share today, so you may fairly label this entry as a space filler.
With 'um' respect, eh?

Kevin Graham

I welcome your feedback. Feel free to contact me by e-mail.

To help me avoid receiving a ton of spam, I’ll ask that you please replace the parenthetic content, and the parentheses, of course, with the @ sign. Thanks.

kevin(at sign)