Creative Leadership

Ya know, Um, Like, and The End of Civilization

Pet peeve time:  I keep meeting people lately who can’t get a sentence out without inserting “ya know,” “um,” or “like.”  Like, you know, um, I went to the um, mall yesterday, and like, I found ya know, a shirt that I, like, um, tried on, and it was like too big.  Ouch.  And if you bring it up to people they get really, like, um, ya know, defensive.

This even affects people who speak for a living – teachers, pastors, television and radio hosts.  So any ideas out there?  Is there a definitive way to help people overcome this speech problem?  Watch a little MTV, and you’ll start to think the next generation will implode from the inability to communicate.  But many of us old guys have the same problem.  Can somebody help?

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15 Comments

  1. Phil, this is not only limited to speaking, it happens in prayer too. Most of us are probably familiar with this prayer: God, you are so amazing God, and we ask you today Lord Jesus, to be our strength o God, and to watch over us God, to be our help Lord Jesus, to guide us in our walk Lord God…etc.  I think it is a crutch we use (myself included). It helps us to keep talking so we can think without leaving silence in between. We have become uncomfortable with silence. I think it also allows us to talk but not really say anything with clarity and we can hide behind ambiguity.  Some people actually realize this and use it to their benefit (e.g not giving straight answers to questions, just peppering responses with figures of speech and rambling, idle talk). I’m sure throughout your business conversations you hear people use so much business lingo that you really don’t know what people are saying (or even if they are saying anything at all).  "We need to think outside the box" or "we really want to be pro-active on this" have lost all meaning becuase they are over used. I have been able to purge the excess references from my prayer (both public and personal), but I still struggle with the "likes’ and the "and-ums" in my speech.

    I think first there has to be a desire to improve and then an intentional self editing.

    Once one notices this pattern in prayer or in speech, it can become really distracting so beware.

  2. And don’t forget the "Just" prayers….

    I, uh, agree with the, umm, main point.

    Could someone take the press conference from last night and get a "umm" to content ratio?

  3. I was reading A-Rod’s confession interview after I posted and noticed 4-5 "you knows" in just a few sentences. Maybe someone here with a background in journalism can comment on what is obliged to transcribe for print purposes when the interviewee uses the "you-knows" and "likes". How long does someone have to hold out an "uuuuummmm" beofre it becomes a word?

     to osborn4: I can’t imagine Lincoln starting the Gettysburg Address with: "Four-score and umm, seven years ago…".  I have noticed our new presidents use of "umm" quite frequently when speaking off the cuff or answering questions, not so much in his speeches.

  4. Something that helped me with my public speaking was joining Toastmasters.  There is a role that someone fills every meeting called "grammarian."  This person keeps track of the "ums," "likes," "you knows," etc. and then tells each speaker how many of each (part of the constructive criticism).  Although I am no longer in Toastmasters, because of the grammarian, I am more aware of these speaking hang-ups.

    To this day, when I hear "um" come out of my mouth, I cringe.  Public speaking used to be a requirement when I was in high school and college…is it still?

    I don’t see the problem with gently pointing out someone’s "ums," especially if they are in a high-profile position within their organization where they are constantly speaking in front of groups, crowds, etc.

  5. Sometimes blogs are like this.  The blogger posts a useless blog in order to fill space for the blog that day until he/she can find a more solid blog to post. 

  6. More dangerous are the slang or flippant terms we throw about that go completely unnoticed. The two words that have caused me the most amount of trouble are "just" and "should." As in, "I SHOULD go to the gym in the morning and I SHOULD stop eating donuts…" or, "let’s JUST get and interest-only loan and JUST refinance in two years…"

    These words are generally used to create an unrealistic situation that has no bearing on anybody’s reality. In fact, the word "just" has caused us so much trouble we no longer allow it to be uttered in our business meetings, and when someone does they have to abandon the idea and think of another.

    just saying…

  7. Is this a bad time to mention a certain New Media Guru’s over use of the phrase “incredibly, incredibly important” at a certain convention in Nashville this weekend??!! 🙂

    Love your work, Phil. I’m, like, a huge fan.

    Bless you always

  8. What if we had to pay $$ for each word we were allowed to speak?

    I think the ‘umms’ and ‘ya knows’ happen from simply talking too soon without thinking first. It is wrongly assuming that gut emotion will compensate for lack of clarity and purpose…

    As eluded earlier, there is such pressure to have all the answers and speak quickly, avoiding dead air space…

  9. I think it’s a combination of not having much to say i.e., filler and not knowing what you’ll say next. So few people actually consider what they’ll say next these days. They just start talking and assume the words will follow. They have no filter.

     

    What’s the old saying, better to be thought a fool then open your mouth and remove all doubt.

     

    Maybe we’ve become so used to text-based communication (email, IM, texting, etc.) where we a) can delete, take our time, consider, rewrite, etc. and b) often just use abbreviations and shorthand (AFAIK, FWIW, OMG, etc.), that speaking is a challenge. 🙂

  10. Once counted an asst pastor during a 5 minute prayer use the term Father God at least 67 times. (Started counting after 4 times is how I knew.)

    Listening to my 17 year old daughter retell a personal story is excruciating due to the continuous use of "you know" and "like." Especially the latter. "Like, I told her, no way, ain’t gonna happen. Then she says, like, get off my back."

    This is a poor trend with a bleak future. Such sloppy language, if not already, is soon to enter business speak.

  11. I think we have two ears and one mouth for a good reason – probably we need to do twice as much listening (and safely more thinking) before speaking. Today we are in a hurry for everything. Why?

  12. My 10 year old son has "like" disorder.  I think it’s a form of Tourrettes.  (Just kidding!)  The kid has just received normal hearing after a lifetime of difficulty.  We’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude as we’ve heard his speech become increasingly clear.  Then came "like".  Now that he hears what his peers say, he wants to speak exactly like everyone else.  (We should have seen this coming!) 

    Anyway, he’s lucky he’s 10 and has his retired Marine father and home schooling mom to harass him straight.  He’s lucky, because after we’ve outgrown such oversight it’s much harder. 

    A very bright young lady asked me to proof read her letter to our congressman.  My eyebrows practically went through my hairline as I asked her if she truly intended to use "disrespected" as a verb.  "Trust me."  I said.  "The congressman is an ‘old person’ like me!  He won’t be impressed."

    Perhaps every generation goes through this.  Maybe it’s just part of the infamous generation gap. 

    If it’s not our duty to exercise oversight, and we haven’t been asked to help, we probably should grin and bear it.  

    Sometimes humor helps.  My husband used the Canadian "Eh" and the Wisconsin "Don’t ya know" in response to our daughter’s gratuitous "likes".  It made her laugh, and it made his point.  She’s 12 now, and seems to be cured!

  13. Well, an interesting research. Exactly nowadays we are so fast moving that we have even no time to express ourselves fully, Hope these might be the reason of such words. Really if the same situation continues then the time will come when we will not have the time for ourselves.

  14. I was reading A-Rod’s confession interview after I posted and noticed 4-5 "you knows" in just a few sentences. Maybe someone here with a background in journalism can comment on what is obliged to transcribe for print purposes when the interviewee uses the "you-knows" and "likes". How long does someone have to hold out an "uuuuummmm" beofre it becomes a word?

     to osborn4: I can’t imagine Lincoln starting the Gettysburg Address with: "Four-score and umm, seven years ago…".  I have noticed our new presidents use of "umm" quite frequently when speaking off the cuff or answering questions, not so much in his speeches.

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