You and almost everyone on Earth have this in common

Two people engage in conversation, perhaps using fillers. Via Flickr user Rohit Rath.

Two people engage in conversation, perhaps using fillers. Via Flickr user Rohit Rath.

When I was in high school, I had a teacher who always used the same filler word. I think it might have been “you know,” as in, “It’s, you know, nice of them to do that.”

During one class, I tallied every time the teacher used the phrase in question. (I was obviously a productive student during that hour.)

Perhaps I always had a sense for fillers, those words that you say in conversation whenever you need to give yourself more time to collect your thoughts. That was what my high school teacher was doing (and my source of entertainment during that class period).

To get a sense of what fillers are, look at all these italicized words:

Person A: What do you think of Bob?

Person B: He’s, well, you know, a great guy, but he seems like busy.

It sounds annoying, doesn’t it? Most people use fillers, often unconsciously, and it’s difficult to stop.

I notice fillers especially when I listen to recordings of my interviews with sources. Many journalists will agree that listening to and transcribing these recordings is one of the most loathsome parts of writing. It’s boring and tedious to re-listen to a conversation you already had, especially when the interview lasts an hour or more.

But through that re-listening process, I’ve realized how common verbal fillers are. I hear lots of repetitions of “you know,” “well,” “basically,” “so,” “I mean,” and whole host of other words. Some people get so bogged down in fillers that when I listen to the recording, I realize they didn’t even finish a lot of their sentences.

Just say your point, I often think while transcribing these recordings.

The fillers vary upon person, nationality, and whether English is the person’s native language. Almost everyone uses them, no matter the socioeconomic level. The people I interview for my magazine tend to have more education and hold professional jobs, and lo and behold, they still fling out fillers.

It isn’t bad to use fillers. They exist for a reason, namely to show others that you have paused to think but are not yet finished speaking. The problem is that overusing fillers makes a person seem unsure of themselves and less intelligent.

Is that fair or true? Probably not, but that’s one of the first thoughts that springs to mind.

I’m definitely guilty of overusing fillers, especially “like” in my younger days. It’s relatively rare to find someone who uses few fillers, and when it happens, that person sounds so smart.

That’s why over the years, I’ve tried to tone down my use of fillers. I’ve become more aware of my own, especially “you know,” through listening to others.

I mean, it’s been like challenging to cut back, but it’s basically important, you know.

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