The jump the shark moment for the F-word may have come and gone. Even the erudite David Brooks of the New York Times used it recently in his otherwise uplifting book on self-discipline and modesty, “The Road to Character.”
A four letter word that once caused shock – or at least embarrassed giggles – has become a filler word. Something you say to fill the space between the stuff that actually matters.
It’s lost the power to shock. Everybody says fuck.
Other filler words include “meanwhile, “like”, “basically” – and the very worst and most frequently heard – “you know”.
Many thoughtful, well-educated people punctuate their sentences with “you know”, you know? The term has become the new “um”.
Those who use it in serious conversation dilute the meaning of what they are trying to say. I have a highly articulate, smart, funny friend in the financial industry who uses “you know” in virtually every sentence. It drives me crazy. She’s probably unaware of it and I’m too chicken to say anything.
Guess I haven’t walked too far on my road to character. Sorry, David Brooks.
When hosting a talk radio show years ago, a program director pulled me aside. “You say um a lot,” he told me. “Don’t do it. In between thoughts, stay silent. It can be kind of powerful. People will listen more carefully to what you’ll say next.”
Great advice – especially for a guy who loves to talk and trips over my words in a rush to say the next thing. A little pause sounds so much better than filling in the time with meaningless filler words.
Easier said than done, you say?
Actually, no. As soon as I became aware of what I was doing, it was surprisingly easy to cure my verbal tic. It’s a little bit like weeding. Almost everytime time I noticed an “um” forming in my brain I would pause and pick it out of my speech pattern.
Another tip: speak in short sentences. “Structural filler-word patterns are triggered because of the way you structure your sentences,” says writer, Anett Grant. “Using oral bullet points gives you time to think about what you’re going to say while reinforcing your main point.”
Clarity is the best friend you have when speaking. Especially when you are serious. Weeding out the filler words is a great way to sound smart in business meetings, sales presentations and at the dinner table.
When you don’t have much to say, remain silent.
Richard Davies is a podcaster. Hear his “um” free show, “How Do We Fix It?” with co-host Jim Meigs on Acast, iTunes and Stitcher. He also runs DaviesContent – a podcast production house.