Monday, May 25, 2009

Like, You- Know: Ah, Um, Er

When I get nervous I wind up with a whole bowlful of filler words sprinkled through my speech. These are words such as: ah, uh, um, er, eh, like, or “you-know.” Filler words also are known as filled pauses, and that term implies that you just should replace them with empty pauses.

Most of us are blissfully unaware of just how many filler words we use, and as Steve Adubato said, we easily can wind up with a nasty case of um-it is. Excess use of filler words can produce a negative impression, as happened recently to Caroline Kennedy. Somehow we incorrectly expected all Kennedys to genetically be silver-tongued orators.

Feedback can help reduce use of filler words. One simple way is to record your speech and then listen to it. Another is to have someone else listen to a rehearsal or speech. Toastmasters meetings have an assigned “Ah Counter” (sometimes called the “Wizard of Ahs”). In our club the counter reports the results. Some clubs also levy a fine of 5 cents per filler word (with a maximum of 25 cents) to act as a friendly reminder. Other stricter clubs may ring a bell, or even drop a BB in a coffee can to mark each filler word.

Filler words depend both on language and dialect. In the US we are unconscious of our own fillers, but find others very noticeable, like the profuse Canadian English use of “eh.” Linguistically there is a lot more to filler words - even a whole book called Um by Michael Erard.

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