Like, You Know

I’ve been posting about writing tips – things to avoid in writing, correct grammar, and word usage. But what about the way we speak? Writing is just another way of recording our speech, just another form of communication. The two forms often overlap.

Young writers, especially, are guilty of letting their chatty colloquialisms and bad language habits creep into their writing. The two are closely related, but today I want to talk more about oral language than written.

Probably one of the first things people learn when they take lessons in public speaking is to get rid of the habit of filling dead air with “ah … er … uh ….” Listen to one of our top politicians speaking and you’ll find it hard to concentrate on whether he is saying anything worthwhile between the many “ah”s.

Filler words allow the speaker to keep control of his turn to speak, a subconscious ploy to prevent someone else from interrupting, while he buys time as he searches for words or ideas. My own preference would be for the dead air.

When I listen to an interview on the TV news or a podcast, I often hear meaningless words interjected as fillers.

One of the speech habits that drives me crazy is the use of “like” when it doesn’t mean “like” at all. This word is thrown into every second sentence whether it needs it or not, thus saving the speaker from having to think of other words to explain what he really means. When I hear, “I was like, wow!” I think, “What does that mean?” Grammatically, it’s nonsense.

We expect some stupid language habits from teens, but it seems to me, that adults are beginning to get lazy too. It’s not unusual to hear a person use “like,” hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of times in an hour-long interview.

“You know” is another meaningless expression thrown into conversation far too often. Just listen to any interview on the news and you’ll hear it repeated.

I had a history teacher who basically lectured, and had little interaction with the class once she began to speak. I didn’t learn much in that course. I was so focused on her habit of interjecting, “of course,” and “of course you know,” that I whiled away the time making tally marks every time she said either. One day, at the end of a one-hour lecture she had used “of course” 137 times. I was torn between wanting to help her by letting her know, and making sure I passed the course. “Of course” I chose the passing grade.

And then there is profanity. We each have our own level of tolerance for the use of the F word, but I think I speak for the majority who realize that once in a long while, it is the only word that fits the situation. However, it is not a word that should have a place in our regular conversation.

Excessive use of the F word seems to be more popular with men who work in jobs requiring physical labour. Maybe they run into more injuries. I think most people who hit their thumb with a hammer might say F—! But it has become the norm for some segments of society to throw in the F word as if they are punctuating a paragraph. I do admire their knowledge of grammar though. I would find it a difficult act to follow, to tell a story with the addition of the F word in front of every noun and every verb. How do they do it? It is also often placed in front of the word “right.” So just remember that. It goes in front of every noun and every verb, and usually when you are agreeing with someone you say, F’n right. Do all of that and you will be admired by others of your ilk, ye of little brains. This includes that group of 15-year-old girls who were waiting for the school bus outside their high school, swearing as loudly as they could, to show that they were all grown up now. Lord help us!

Other habits of language we may have, include the use of certain words that we use to wrap up a conversation. You’re telling the other person, often on the phone, that it’s time to wind it up. You put on a singsong voice and sing, “Anyway,” or worse yet, “Anyhoo,” or “Well,” or “So.” Be sure to sing it in a wavy “up, down, up” sequence.

Lastly, there is the kind of speech that requires reassurance every few words. You’ll find insecure people telling their story with each phrase rising at the end as if they were asking a question.

“I was driving into town?… and there was this man?… he was standing on the corner?…” By this time I’m already going mad! No question mark needed here.

I think we all have some language habits that we should probably work on correcting. It helps if we’re aware of them. Then we can catch ourselves and eventually break the bad habits. If you happen to be Canadian, you might want to check if you use “okay” a lot, “eh?”