Um, like, you know?

I love NPR. But sometimes, it puts my teeth on
I don’t listen to a lot of radio, mostly when I’m driving somewhere, but my local station (KAZU, 90.3 FM, at CSUMB) keeps me company whenever I’m on the road in Santa Cruz county.

However, I have a complaint–not aimed at KAZU, mind you, but at the guest speakers on the national programs. People, please. When you have so many verbal tics you can’t get through a single sentence without a “you know” or a “like”, I change stations, no matter how interested I might be in what you’re saying.

Because I can’t hear you. All I hear is your uncertainty (…just…) and your need to affirm my agreement (right?) and understanding (you know?) before you can continue. You’re showing inexactitude (like) and hesitation (um) on a matter that you, theoretically at least, are an expert on and have carefully considered opinions about.Katharine_hepburn_woman_of_the_year_cropped

It’s not just radio, either, but public speaking of any kind.  So please be aware, Dear Speaker, that I need more than your bio to be convinced that you’re someone whose opinion matters. Authority lies between the lines, and I need you to claim your expertise, to own your material, unencumbered by extraneous noises that chip away at my confidence in you. How do you expect me to believe you, if you’ve only let me see your own doubts?

It has to do with intimidation, I know. Whenever I find my speech taking on a ridiculous number of ums and likes, I realize I’m uncomfortable, and I need to pull myself together—because if I’m uncomfortable, my audience is, too.

To be clear: none of those questions, hesitations, or hedge-words are bad in and of themselves. Too many uses of “just” dilutes the message—but a precisely placed use can underscore it. “Sorry” may be a cringing attempt to disarm—or it can be the opposite, a verbal poke in the eye. The key is in the control. If those words are slipping in all over, then they’re burying the message.

This may be less true for a young audience. There’s an interesting piece—on NPR—about how young women have the right to talk this way, since deliberately changing their speech patterns to sound more, well, masculine can emotionally blunt their speech.

Which is fair enough—so long as you’re not trying to catch the ear of someone, you know, like (um) me?


  1. Chris S. on June 22, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    I agree with you and I also turn off the program.

  2. Chris Weisen on June 22, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    Interesting that you should Katherine Hepburn’s picture in your comments. Now there was a woman who could get a point across not just with the lines of the script but with her steel spine and take no excuses attitude. No one ever came across with more conviction than Kate Hepburn.

    • Laurie King on June 24, 2016 at 10:53 am

      Yep, that’s why she is there. Also because the pic is from Woman of the Year.

  3. Chris Weisen on June 22, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    Correction: Interesting that you should include Katherine Hepburn’s picture in your comments.

    • Laurie King on June 24, 2016 at 10:53 am

      Yep, the eye fills in missing words.

  4. Elizabeth Copley on June 22, 2016 at 9:58 pm

    As soon as someone I am listening to begins to sprinkle “like” into their speech, I can’t seem to hear any of the content. For me it is akin to trying to hear the message of someone who has food stuck in their teeth. It sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

  5. Frances Kern on June 23, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Thank you for this, Laurie. Um, like and you know have been burrs under my saddle for years. And as you no doubt know, it is a great deal worse on radio stations other than NPR, and unfortunately, on television it is the norm.

  6. Rosemary Miller on July 1, 2016 at 11:19 am

    How about the ubiquitous “no problem” instead of a simple “your welcome”? This may not qualify as a verbal tic, but it really ruffles my feathers!

  7. Kathy Kalin on July 1, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Thank-you! I have been watching Euro ’16 (soccer tournament) on ESPN, and one of the new commentators, an ex-player, is now invisible. I was beginning to count the number of “you knows” in each sentence. I don’t think excessive use of “you know” was what did this person in, although it should have been a mighty contribution. I think it was calling for an impossible team formation.

    If anyone could get a point across with just a ramrod straight spine and a steely-eyed glare, it would be Kate Hepburn-and she had an excellent brownie recipe, too. 8)

    • Laurie King on July 1, 2016 at 11:46 am

      The idea of Katherine Hepburn making brownies is one I had never considered.

      • Kathy Kalin on July 1, 2016 at 2:38 pm

        “Brownies Hepburn”-preheat oven to 325º. Grease an 8×8 pan.
        1/4 lb. butter (1 stick)
        2 squares unsweetened chocolate
        1 cup sugar
        2 eggs
        1/2 tsp vanilla
        1 c chopped walnuts (optional)
        1/4 tsp salt
        1/4 cup all-purpose flour
        Melt chocolate and butter. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar, then beat in eggs and vanilla. Quickly stir in flour and salt and add walnuts. Bake in the 8×8 for 40-45 minutes. These will not be cakey. Undercooking them slightly is good.

  8. Mary Tannert on July 2, 2016 at 6:01 am

    Chocolate is good for the nervous system. Maybe nervous, uncertain speakers should eat one of these brownies before their public appearances.
    Recently I attended a professional webinar on the subject of time management. The presenter inserted “um”, “like” or “you know” (or all of them) in every single sentence, generally more than once. It distracted me so badly that I almost logged out. I have no idea what else she said because I was so busy trying not to be annoyed at her you-knowism.
    She also ran over by twenty minutes. In a one-hour webinar on TIME MANAGEMENT. Sheesh! If she had eliminated even half of the instances of “um”, “like” or “you know”, she would have solved her own time management problem and kept my interest.

    • Laurie King on July 2, 2016 at 9:55 am

      A course in time management that runs over, love it.

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