What your verbal fillers say about you


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What your verbal fillers say about you
What are the most common but biggest faux pas in modern English?…

Verbal fillers or tics are the guilty pleasures of the communication world – all those useless, fatuous repetitive pieces of nonsense that we belch out the moment there is the slightest pause or hesitation in our stream of speech. Sometimes we start with them, often we end with them. Occasionally we use them instead of speech altogether, as in ‘Right, okay, well, basically, you know, I sort of, actually, kind of – if you like…innit?’

These words come courtesy of your subconscious during micro-moments of panic and to fill gaps to show that you believe it’s still your turn to talk, and it could be that you sprinkle them throughout your conversations like confetti. Okay so you mimic them from others, but why did you choose the particular words you use so constantly? Think your choice was random? Think again…

Often accompanied by a smacking and rubbing of hands, this is the ultimate clapper-board word, the one that announces you’re about to start a new job or train of thought and it’s performed as much for your own benefit as a signal to others that you’re about to kick off. The question is, why the need to scoop up your thinking and self-motivate on such a regular basis? You’re a positive person, but the trouble is your thoughts tend to run out of control and you struggle keeping track at times. This leads to mild levels of stress and confusion leading to you becoming your own little police force, dragging the threads of your thinking together and galvanising your brain into action. Use this too much and you’ll appear bumbling, chaotic and just a little bit of a control freak in what can sound like a call for silence from those around you.

‘…you know…’
These two words need to appear during, rather than at the start of, a sentence or in reply to a question, as in:
‘How did you feel when the rhino trampled you?’
‘Well, you know….’
‘I only had about three seconds to…you know…run away and I was…you know…very scared.’

Do we need to point out the obvious, which is that you will only use these words when you patently don’t know what you’re talking about or what to say? The words ‘you know’ are the ultimate cry for help. When you use them you’re asking, ‘Do you know? Can you help me out please?’ and this plead for empathy suggests severe brain break-down, albeit temporary.

Watch a professional speaker like a politician during an interview and the moment he/she emerges with his/her first ‘you know’ you can tell they’ve lost the plot and are bluffing big- time.

Why use a word to prove the truth of what you’re saying unless you’re lying in the first place? ‘I was actually very upset’, ‘We could actually see that our plan was working’, ‘I was confused by that actually’. This is your personal attempt to underline what you are saying and it implies you’re used to being doubted and feel you have to over-prove your point. ‘Actually’ is a weasel word, flung about with desperation in a flaccid attempt to provide validation that is clearly missing, actually.

Read all of the above and add a drizzle of intellectual pretentiousness.

Only ever used by people who have relinquished all control over their ability to précis, and serves as a warning that the speaker is about to ramble on with a severe case of verbal diarrhoea. This is another self-policing word as you try to form structure and clarity to your points and therefore a clear sign that you have none. By using this word you also give false hope to your audience, demanding their attention by suggesting you will be good to listen to. The small break-down in trust once they realise you have more rabbit than Waitrose will become part of a general decline in your overall credibility.

Why place the question mark at the end of this word when it is nothing other than a statement or rhetorical question at best? At least three centuries ago this was a cockney abbreviation of ‘Isn’t it?’ and worthy of a reply, as in:
‘It’s raining out, innit?’
‘Yes, I do believe you will need an umbrella if you are thinking of venturing outdoors’
Now though it’s become a meaningless statement that ends every sentence like a full stop; a kind of verbal bum-boil that makes all speech as unattractive as possible, as in:
‘I’ll call you tomorrow, innit?’ Even the vaguest whiff of fashion has long since left this word, which means that by using it you show you’re nothing short of a sad soul who believes wearing your hood up makes you look like a gangsta.

This intense abbreviation of the words ‘Do you know what I mean?’ is like a verbal concertina that suggests a permanent state of acute cognitive confusion. By using this at the end of every statement you are elongating your speech to enquire after the understanding of your audience. By abbreviating to this one word you also imply that you are time-poor and need to get your messages across as quickly as possible, which beggars the question: Why not use words that are easily understood in the first place, meaning you would have no need to enquire that everything you say is comprehended by your audience? This constant, unrelenting checking suggests weakness. You are part of a pack that will reject members at will, hence the need to keep confirming that everything you say is ‘on message’. You are desperate to please and possibly a little paranoid to boot, yamean?

‘Do you hear what I’m saying?’
See all of the above but add a massive pinch of egocentricity. You don’t talk to other people, you preach. Most of what you say is incomprehensible gibberish but you demand an appreciative audience and by adding this phrase to the end of every statement you force listeners to nod sagely, as though pure verbal gold had just tumbled out of your mouth. You like to feel you are a guru in your own lifetime, although genuine gurus rarely use this verbal tic. Did Martin Luther King say ‘I have a dream, DO YOU HEAR WHAT I’M SAYING?’ No. He used eloquence and a microphone instead.

‘Sort of… /Kind of…’
These words suggest you have a tippy-toes approach to life, qualifying everything in case someone accuses you of being bold. You suggest life events are so baffling or astounding they make you run out of words. ‘It was a sort of recession issue’ or ‘It was a kind of unhelpful thing to say’ is like air-brushing your statements to avoid disagreement and portray you as a liberal thinker rather than opinionated. You tend to dither big-time over most of your decisions, sticking a big toe into the pool of life rather than pulling on your cossie and diving in.

‘If you like’
This oily, obsequious phrase is the Uriah Heep, hand-wringer of the verbal filler world. ‘It was an – if you like – unfortunate type of behaviour’ or ‘We have an – if you like – unhelpful situation here.’ When you use this phrase you are like a creepy, deeply-bowing, toupee-wearing waiter presenting a ghastly, over-inflated bill on a small silver platter.

The problem with ‘If you like’ people is that their utter submissiveness masks an inner stubbornness and will of steel. Just as you know you’re going to have to pay that dinner bill, so you know this ‘if you like’ user has no intention of changing their point of view. Passive-aggressive defines you perfectly.

This article has been extracted from The You Code by Judi James

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