I am the worst at using filler words. Like that dude from “The King’s Speech,” bad. I make the Valley Girls seem like political speech writers with my reckless use of “like.” And I use “umm” with little regard for human life.
Now that I’ve got the first of 12 steps under my belt, let’s get to the bottom of why I talk like Porky Pig when he forgot to take his Xanax. According to people much smarter than me who presumably say “umm” much less than I do, it’s because I’m trying to buy myself some time.
Trying to buy time during which I can make myself look less like an idiot.
It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m lying to my boss when I say that “I, umm, must have misplaced the Peterson report” even though I may or may not have totally forgotten about it. There is a very good chance I could just be taking an inventory of the big empty space that occupies the place where my brain used to be. Flipping through the files of memorized cheat codes from Sega Genesis games and obscure lyrics of 2000’s alternative rock songs to remember why I didn’t do something I didn’t want to do in the first place can be daunting.
Or of course it could be caused by the knee-buckling, hand-clamming anxiety of the conversation I’m currently engaging in. I’ll have a whole lot more “uhhs” up my sleeve while presenting a Powerpoint on Sales Goals for 2017 when I prepped for the 2016 Year in Review Deck than I would during a rant on something I feel passionate about (read: the last thing I complained about on Facebook).
And don’t even think about tallying fillers during a first date with someone out of your league, you’ll be searching for right words more clumsily than Tiger Woods on Thanksgiving night in 2009.
But first, a Zack Morris timeout.
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So what can you do to alleviate this awkward filling?
Shut. The. Fuck. Up.
That’s right. Every time you have to gather your thoughts, embrace the silence like Feeney facing the end of an era …
Don’t try to fill the awkward space with the stuff that basic white girl brunches are made of, fill it with deliberate pauses. Is there any better way to command a room than with strategic silence? Besides a gun, I can’t think of any.
And I think this goes without saying, but don’t be shitty. Being nervous about your words is a good way to sound like you are more confused than your virgin friend when confronted with a vagina. But you sir or madam will spit straight fire if your brain and your mouth are firing on the same cylinders.
Yes, I’m talking about practice.
Or you could just replace “umm” with another filler that just so happens to sound marginally more intelligent. Instead of saying “Ummm … also our bottom line increased 16%”, replace umm with “Another important point is.” Sure it might sound like you’re having middle management diarrhea of the mouth, but the Queen’s English sounds a hell of a lot better than that sad excuse of a glorified grunt your coworkers are used to.
Finally, don’t hang so loose, bro. Being 5 beers deeps on a Saturday night doesn’t give you license to sound like you graduated from ITT Tech in 6 years. And just because you left the office doesn’t mean you should turn up the DUMB. Treat every conversation like you’re there is an “umm” triggered bomb strapped to your entire kin and the only way to save your family tree is to sound less stupid. The more formal you attempt to be, the more cognizant of your spoken shortcomings you will be.
Or you could just pretend you’re on a job interview. Totally up to you.
Whether you choose the old bait and switch method or decide to say fuck it and embrace your colloquial idiosyncrasies, know that somewhere, someday, someone who read this article is going to be uber-sensitive to your over-use of fillers and will make fun of you behind your back despite their own shortcomings. So, if for no other reason, rid your lexicon of these petulant pseudowords for the sake of your tarnished, but salvageable reputation.