Um, like, you know?
I love NPR. But sometimes, it puts my teeth on edge.
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.
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?