A Rant About Filler Words

The only kind of filthy language.

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It seems that everyone in our society has a pair of headphones or earbuds protruding from those holes in their skulls, imbibing noise often in an effort to avoid speaking with other human beings. And I suspect I have stumbled upon the reason why.

I’m guilty of being one such person donning a pair of headphones, especially at work. Many of the jobs in which I was employed typically involved lots of mindless repetition, leaving much to be desired on the intellectual front. I just wasn’t learning anything and it, in retrospect, was a fate all my own because I agreed to get paid for brainless activities. Thankfully, podcasts were a not-so-recent innovation and were offering educational materials ad libitum, filling in the gaps my jobs couldn’t. I’m currently subscribed to seventy-nine podcasts—and counting—covering topics ranging from philosophy and politics to literature and history to science and gastronomy.

Music is customarily reserved for car drives (and rides).  [There’s something ineffably wondrous about cruising down the interstate blasting Tchaikovsky or Mozart or the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack.]

Grammar is very important to me and is the characteristic I scrutinize harshest when selecting ear candy—or any treat involving language for that matter. Thus, one may not be surprised to learn how perturbed I become at the sloven use of language, notably the use of fillers such as “um” or “like.” For fear of seeming impious, I must confess that the former hasn’t been completely excised from my lexicon, creeping its way back into a conversation when I’m searching for the next topic. Alas, we all sin and come short. The latter filler is exponentially more egregious because of how damaging it is to the speakers content—by way of dragging out the thought too long straining listener attention spans—and because it betrays the speaker’s incompetence. One doesn’t need to know all 170,000+ words in the English language to speak in public, let alone host (or be a guest on) a podcast. Yet, is it too much to ask for podcasters and their guests to be somewhat intelligible when communicating their ideas?

Let’s get serious, people!

Use some different words. We arguably have too many words in the English language for our speech to become overseasoned with filler words—and, thankfully, an abundance of resources with which to access this lexical bounty. Could the speakers just be blissfully unaware of their grammatical transgressions? Or if aware, just too lazy to remedy their shortcomings?

The other day, I was listening to a podcast hosted by two individuals. (This podcast shall remain nameless.) Two guests were invited to join the hosts in discussing a bevy of topics including sex, relationship advice, booze, and artificial intelligence—not necessarily in that order. And one guest, in particular, could be accused of dereliction of grammatical decency so heinous as to make a case for eugenics nominally more compelling. [Insert sinister laughter.]

I am almost inclined to demand financial restitution for the auricular carnage my eardrums were subjected to that day. From the moment words spewed out of this mortal’s mouth, I recoiled in terror. Behold:

“I’ve also said this before but I was like, you gained emotional maturity at, like, a rather young age, like, cuz I was, like, just me and the chaos of high school and I feel like a lot of people with, like, high school, like, you know, dating and any of that, like, making a conscious choice to be, like…” [All emphases are mine]

That nauseating drivel continues—if you can imagine that nightmare—for several more minutes, sluggishly approaching a point I was no longer interested in. I bolded the only conventionally acceptable use of “like” among that vomitous word salad, and underlined another oft-used filler. The hour-long podcast became increasingly more painful with each successive opportunity the repugnant speaker was allowed mic time. The dialogue was so offensive I even reconsidered my allegiance to the podcast, my finger floating precariously above the ‘Unsubscribe’ button.

I make it my goal to point out these verbal tics in my friends and family (and sometimes coworkers); I find it humorous how self-conscious they become. But I do it with their betterment in mind to ultimately encourage the desuetude of filler words. Important points get buried in a litany of white noise rendering normal conversation ponderous and difficult to follow. And forget interviews and public speaking events! My personal hell would most certainly include buffoons clad in panda costumes ladling the putrid, chunky gravy that is filler words upon every sentence, spoiling discourse for all time.


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