As a writer, it’s important for me to be attuned to what people are saying and how they’re saying it. Doing so is critical to writing honest, realistic dialogue.
However, there are times when that effort can be used for evil purposes.
This is one of those times. If you don’t want to taint every conversation, speech, or other verbal communication you’re privy to – or are involved in – from now on, you might want to skip this post.
One of my favorite pastimes of this ilk is to point out peculiarities I’ve picked up in peoples’ speech. Prime example: A large, evil tech company I used to work for, whose name I’ll withhold (although its initials contain the letters I, B, and M) had an executive who had an notable and egregious defect in his speech.
In virtually every sentence he spoke – I do not exaggerate here – he would use the words “basically”, “essentially”, and/or “in essence”. Sometimes, he’d pair them up, saying something such as, “What we want to do is basically in essence aim at, essentially, a new market with this product.”
Once I made others basically aware of this proclivity on the part of the suit who was basically a VP, everyone essentially started listening for it. As a result, we all basically stopped hearing his content. (No great loss. We’re talking about an upper level exec in a
huge company. Content is optional.)
Essentially, his talks became entertainment, in essence. We all started basically keeping track of the number of times he used each word, as well as the combos. Basically, after every one of his vapid spiels, we’d get together to basically compare notes. In essence, no one had any idea what the guy was basically trying to get across. To this day, the guy probably wonders how it was that he had us all so attentive.
That all sounds cruel, in essence, but we were basically in essence doing this guy a favor. He was basically so out of touch with the real world of our work that basically most of what he said was useless at best, and essentially offensive to most if us at worst. In essence.
Note: The above paragraphs are actually representative of the kind of verbiage that spewed from this man’s mouth. Can you blame us for making a game of it? And, come to think of it, how did this guy get so high on the corporate ladder? Speaks volumes about the “unnamed” company.
That particular speech pattern isn’t widespread but it’s also not rare. Listen to the words people use. You might be surprised.
In the current culture, there is a wealth of indispensable words and phrases that people depend on as if they were the air they breathe. Listen and you’ll hear them everywhere.
The most common, of course is the ubiquitous and equally meaningless “like”. I’ve already dealt with that one in a previous post. Frankly, I’m sick to death of it. If things continue the way they’re going, I foresee a day when, as demonstrated in the aforementioned post, entire conversations will consist of nothing but the word “like”.
Nearly as common are the two verbal tics, “really” and “just”. You won’t be able to listen to someone talk or even read anything regardless of how brief it is, without running into a plethora of those twin beasts. They’re so common in prayers, for example, that I saw a cartoon making light of them. In it, a praying man sends up the following petition: “Father, I really just pray that you would just help me to really just stop saying really and just so much.”
An entire population of people, me included, but also many professional athletes (go figure), start an inordinate number of sentences with the phrase, “I mean”. Is there some other option? Are we saying what we don’t mean? Weird, but true. Listen for it.
A curious pair of phrases can be heard regularly from different or even the same source: “you know” and “I don’t know”, or, spelled according to their more common pronunciation, “y’know” and “I dunno”. The former has been with us for ages upon ages. Maybe the latter came along to balance off the former. Sure, you may know but I don’t.
One of the most pernicious of these potholes on the road of communication is “kind of”. This one actually (by the way, “actually” is another pervasive verbal quirk) communicates something probably unintended and undesired: a lack of confidence in whatever
proposition is being relayed. If I believe what I’m saying, I shouldn’t be qualifying it with “kind of”. Or “sort of” or “I dunno”, for that matter.
The grandaddy of all these verbal fillers is the venerated “um”, a.k.a. “uh”. In the evolution of communication, those are the single-celled creatures floating in the primordial soup of language. The beauty of the uh/um is that they can be drawn out to ridiculous extremes to uuuuummmmmmmmmmmmmm fill any span of conversational lulls or brain vacations.
Most of these words/phrases have a genuine use in the English language (with the possible exception of “like”) so I’m not suggesting we throw them out or anything. My sole intent here is to make your every future interaction more interesting as well as make you self-conscious about what you say. Hang the content!
I mean, um, I kind of really just hope you, I dunno, understand what I’m basically trying to say, y’know?
NB: In response to a comment I received about this post (not online), please accept the following clarification: This post is not intended as a criticism of anyone, except maybe that one guy. The fact of the matter is that I’m “guilty” (if there is guilt to be dispensed) of most of these myself to some extent. That’s my point. Virtually everyone has verbal tics. I’m merely pointing them out for the purposes of either self-improvement, entertainment, or distraction, depending on each person’s particular inclination. Enjoy.