Sunday, July 21, 2024

WORDS: Avoid fillers in conversation

As people expand their knowledge in their education and career fields, they find themselves sometimes using words such as “um,” “like,” “you” “know,” and “ah” when faced with a communication challenge.

Communication experts describe these words and similar expressions as “discourse markers,” which are injections or verbal pauses, according to The New York Times.

Plattsburgh State’s adjunct communication lecturer Aaron Peryea described these filler words as words you would put into a sentence to make it longer or more descriptive. As someone who teaches public speaking, Peryea noticed that sometimes students don’t know what to say.

“In my field of public speaking, sometimes you need filler words to be more descriptive and to make the story to have more time,” Peryea said.

Due to the fact that Peryea times his students, he views filler words as good sometimes because it allow his students to be more expressive.

According to the New York Times, we use filler words when stakes are high or we are nervous — in a job or media interview, during a speech, presentation or conference call — we tend not to breathe as much and we talk faster, so our words get ahead of our thoughts.

Most of the time, filler words are viewed as bad. According to Peryea, if a person is trying to sound smarter and he or she uses intelligent or more elevated vocabulary, that person looks smart.

“But if you use simpler vocabulary it does impede,” Peryea said.

PSUC sophomore Ayesha Joseph, whose major is broadcast journalism, said filler words are words that take unnecessary space such as “like” and “uh.”

“I use filler words, but I try not to use them a lot because it shows that you don’t know what you’re talking about or you’re nervous for some reason,” Joseph said.

Joanna Anthony, a sophomore majoring in psychology at PSUC, said filler words are common among college students because it’s something they pick up overtime.

“Usually when someone is trying to figure out their thoughts they use words such as ‘uh’ and ‘um,’” Anthony said.

Generally speaking, filler words are used by almost everyone. In order to determine if filler words make people look less intelligent, the New York Times asked several communication experts. Lisa Marshall, a communication expert and the author of “Smart Talk” said she had not seen any research attributing speech patterns to certain demographics but had noticed that “like” is used heavily by the younger generation.

Mackey Kallisn an associate professor at Villanova University, was also interviewed.

“You will notice that ‘like’ often infects the speech patterns of 20-somethings more so than the speech of 40-somethings,” Kallis said. “The use of the verbal pause ‘like’ conveys social solidarity among members of this age cohort, but is perceived as less intelligent by older listeners.”

Marshall said that the filler words becomes a problem when the phrases are overused to the point of distraction. She compared it to vulgarity: the occasional use is acceptable but, when too frequent, it loses its meaning and signals to listeners that the person speaking is lazy about language.

In order to ensure students don’t become comfortable using filler words, Peryea said students should really understand what they are writing or presenting.

“A lot of times, students use it when they don’t know what to say, and they throw in words to make it look like they know what they are saying,” Peryea said.

Joseph said students should listen to the things they’re saying. That way, they would be able to pick up on the filler words and try to avoid using them.

“Take your time when you’re speaking, and try to do it as if you’re saying something that someone is going to read,” Joseph said.

Anthony said it is important for student to think about what they are going to say.

“Make sure to watch what you say, there is no reason to say ‘like’ and ‘um’ multiple times,” Anthony said.

Marshall suggested that speakers relax and take a deep breath when finishing a thought. Also, focusing on breathing will make it more difficult to introduce a wayward expression. Substitute silence for the verbal fillers.

She also added that it might be awkward at first, but it is better to have a moment of quiet than a distracting “you know” or “um.”

Email Raheal Neequaye at

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