To sound smart, avoid umming, aahing and filler words

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I… um… even use, like, filler words when I’m… er… typing?


Boingboing article surprised to learn obvious thing everyone in the world knows.


Being surrounded by uptalking, like-umming college students for the past four years has caused me to pay very close attention to how I speak. It’s amazing how much filler you use when you don’t monitor your output.


Like, like, like, like, like…one of my kids picked this up from friends at a very young age, and nothing I’ve done over the years has made much of a dent.

It’s hard to overcome the influence of an entire generation on speech patterns.


This is why I “umm” a lot. It absolutely is about word retrieval. When writing I find myself pausing, and I edit even simple posts like this many times over (and I still don’t catch all my typos or lazy grammar).


What!? You, uh, think you’re, uh, better then me, or something?


Or, if they can’t demonstrate any correlation between speech disfluencies and intelligence, disregard their opinions about it. Since indulging people’s ignorant prejudices usually does more harm than good.


My wife is a ‘like’ filler in-er; from a young age I consciously trained myself to avoid filler sounds. The pause it takes me to form my thoughts is inevitably filled with her “Are you going to answer me?!” I was raised by a Southerner and a Midwesterner, her by New Yorkers (might have something to do with it as well)


I don’t know, this technique makes Al Franken pretty hard to listen to.
At least it did on his old radio show.

My father was a pretty bright guy, by all accounts. He started many spoken sentences with “Wellllll…”

I use filler words when I type… I think they are useful and sometimes funny.


Ugh my sister does this. Not quite as bad as in the past, but still bad. Has a degree in English and knows better! Is now bank management!


¯_(ツ)_/¯ So, yeah!


I’ve noticed this behaviour in a few people, myself included, where the speaker will pause to search for a word but hang on a little too long for the other person, who begins to speak, only for the original speaker to continue the sentence by blurting out the the best fit word they had been able to come up with during the pause.

However. I’ve never felt the need to hang on indefinitely. Some people, to my initial chagrin and, later on, to my distinct pleasure seem to have absolutely no conscious appreciation of the time they have paused for.

I have sat, fascinated, for maybe 30 - 40 (I just counted out 30 seconds, it was probably more like 20) seconds before ‘re-activating’ the speaker. Better yet is ending the pause with various playful interjections.

Sometimes I’ll say “…and go!” or “continue” but the very best is activating them without saying anything, you have to take a slightly sharp breath in and make the tiniest sound as if you were going to speak. This can be mixed up with coughs and slightly heavier than normal, single breaths until you can find and play around with the threshold at which the speaker will activate.

I know, I’m a dick. But it’s fucking fascinating!


I heard somewhere that the reason we use filler words in conversation is to hold our space, so that the other person doesn’t jump in thinking we are done speaking. So, when we are in a situation where we are the speaker and people are listening, we have to lose the habit of holding our space in the conversation because it sounds very odd to be the featured speaker but constantly filling the space as if someone might jump in at any moment and take your place. It’s a different speaking role.


I don’t think 3-4 seconds is indefinitely, but hey:


I say indefinitely because I’ve never bothered to just hang on and see what happens. Also, I think people eventually become aware of my agape, fascinated smile and become uneasy about the whole situation.

Oh. I was referring to my experience of the extent to which I’ve seen pauses extend. Not to your example. That’s the only place I can see you getting the 3-4 seconds from, otherwise, I don’t know what you mean.

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Will I sound like I’m smart, or like I’m Jeff Goldblum?


I try to avoid filler words but I end up saying “and” a lot.


Ah, um, well, sometimes they make it sound more like you’re having trouble responding to something through no fault of your own.

More seriously, though, many of the most knowledgeable and clever people I know use a lot of filler words. If you think it makes them sound unintelligent it’s simply your mistake, because it means they’re thinking about what they say. It reminds me a little of advice I once heard, never to judge someone harshly for mispronouncing a word, because it means they learned it from actually reading something.