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This article about scientists who are studying the meaning of 'um', 'uh', 'like', 'y'know' and other language placeholders, was really fascinating to me.

I sometimes use uhhh and umm in the ways described in the article (to signal an upcoming pause in the narrative flow), but often I have the very disconcerting (to some people, like my sister) habit of not using these words.

When I'm telling a story, I often like to structure it in some coherent, meaningful way. On the tinyblog I can simply wait however long it takes for the words to come, and then write them.

When I do this in conversation though, people seem to find it pretty disconcerting. If someone asks me a question, I'm putting all my mental resources towards answering it, and often don't reserve a little attention to indicating that I am not simply ignoring them. The same thing happens when I am telling a story and stop to consider the structure of the next portion.

Even worse is when i do it at work. People call me on the phone and when they ask for information, I simply start looking for the information wordlessly.

An annoyed "hello?!" is sometimes my reward.

I guess I'd better start cultivating my ummmmms.

[ Link via the bleublog. ]


Oh so funny-and true!

I'd never thought about that. How reassuring a little "um" or "uhuh" can be.

Silence can certainly be disturbing in a conversation if you're expecting an answer. But I'm willing to wait, if it means a good one is brewing...

No! Emphatically No! Please do not become another errant American inserting needless "um"s and "uh"s into dialogue. That, my friend, is annoying, not natural, silent pauses. Thank you for...um...your...uh...consideration.

But sometimes those natural pauses stretch into the tens of seconds. People wonder if I'm ever coming back.

The 'um's and 'er's are like the human versions of computers' hard drive LEDs, or their little sand timers, indicating that accessing or processing is underway.

Did you know that machinery these days, like printers, cameras, and the like, are designed to make pleasing sounds as they work? They found, when trying to make them as silent as they could, that people found the silence disconcerting. People like to know that something's a-happening.

Perhaps you could just have an LED put in your forehead, wired up to your brain, so people can see when you're brain's doing its stuff? Wouldn't work too well over the phone, though.

That's a great idea! I told him just the other day, in the middle of a long pause in our conversation, it was rather like waiting for a computer to be "done" processing it's response. It would be tremendously reassuring to have a little read-out -heeheehee.

Also, then you'd know if by chance there was no reply forthcoming, eh? Sometimes silence is just silence.

I work as a councelor for "troubled" youth, and one of the things that is almost universally taught as part of counseling is to acknowledge the fact that you are listening to the other person. So...ummm...uhh anyway that's that.

Now if only they taught spelling..right?...councelor..sheesh