The Secret Life of ‘Um’

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The Secret Life of ‘Um’
Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

Interesting.  I don't know to what degree any of us worry about saying "um" in a one-to-one conversation (or other phatic speech, like "well" or "like" or whatever).

But if you're giving a speech, or lecturing, or you have the podium all to yourself -- if you're the only one speaking -- then "um" is a whole different thing.  It still means you're flailing.

voice of the damned

A few months back, I tried to stop saying "Um" when teaching my conversational English classes(which basically just consist of reading aritcles and having conversations about them, with a bit of lecturing tossed in here and there). I found that it actually disrupted the flow of what I was saying, because I had to consciously think about whether I was about to say "um", and stop myself. So I fell back off the wagon pretty quickly.

And as far as flailing goes, what's the difference between putting an "um" in front of your statement, and just pausing? Either way, it's an indication that you're buying time before speaking.

 

 

 

Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

Quote:
And as far as flailing goes, what's the difference between putting an "um" in front of your statement, and just pausing?

FWIW, I'm also a lecturer.  I don't think "um" is the kiss of death, but when I pause for a second (and maybe cock an eyebrow) I can at least look thoughtful, or dramatic.  I can't help but think that's a bit better than saying a non-word.

Again, I'm not ripping on "umm-ers".  But outside of a two-way conversation, "um" really means "I'm lost here for a second" OR, really "a second of silence scares me more".

WWWTT

Don’t like the opening link for this thread because the author has an arrogant view that humans are the most intelligent creatures around. 

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/human-intelligence-versus-whales-and-dolphins/

voice of the damned

Mr. Magoo wrote:

Quote:
And as far as flailing goes, what's the difference between putting an "um" in front of your statement, and just pausing?

FWIW, I'm also a lecturer.  I don't think "um" is the kiss of death, but when I pause for a second (and maybe cock an eyebrow) I can at least look thoughtful, or dramatic.  I can't help but think that's a bit better than saying a non-word.

Again, I'm not ripping on "umm-ers".  But outside of a two-way conversation, "um" really means "I'm lost here for a second" OR, really "a second of silence scares me more".

Well, when I tried giving it up, I think I realized that, for me, saying "um" is part of the process of thinking about what I'm going to say next. Sort of like some people tap their fingers on the desk when coming up with an answer to someone's question.

And I think you might have hit the mark when you said that "um" is a non-word, and there's kind of a prejudice against those types of linguistic items. But, really, "well" used at the beginning of a sentence is, for all practical purposes, a non-word also(it doesn't have any meaning besides "I'm going to think a bit before I say anything".) But because of it's career-history as a real word, it's somehow more respectable than "um".

WWWTT

There are theories that Cetatcea may be able to communicate 3D imagery and communicate with each other thousands of KM away. And humans are having a debate about the word um. Take all the time you want to think about that while I'm laughing my freekin ass off!

progressive17 progressive17's picture

Just remember to put your mind in gear before your mouth in motion.

"Umm" or "Err" are strictly for use before a euphemism. Otherwise it is OK to pause for a short while before speaking. It is also OK to speak slowly.