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Today’s teenagers and young adults have a verbal tic that drives me crazy.


They pepper their language with it.  They use it as a filler word when they are trying to figure out what to say, and are too afraid of silence to just be quiet for the half second it would take them to organize the thoughts in their mind.

Lately, I’ve been calling it to their attention, because it’s getting really out of hand.  I will say things such as, “Well, I think I understand what you’re saying, but I’m having to sift through all of your likes to sort out your meaning.”  Or I will respond in kind: “I think, like, that I, like, understand what you are, like, saying, but, like, it got a little, like, confusing, because, like, you kept saying LIKE.”

(I use like as a filler word sometimes, too.  I freely admit that.  But I don’t use it a dozen times in a minute-long answer.  And I’m not exaggerating there.)

I had one student who interrupted a two-syllable word with like.  Not just a sentence.  A WORD.  “For these projects, are we gonna have to pre-like-sent?”  He is sure he didn’t do that.  He swears he said, “like, present” but I know what I heard.  I would never make up such a thing because it would never even occur to me to make that up.

When I have students give speeches, I’ve started adding “avoiding filler-words” to the rubric on which I grade them.  (Most of them use like, but there are plenty of ums, uhs, and you knows as well.)  It makes them more aware.

I want my students to sound like intelligent people.  (That like was not a filler-word!  It had a purpose!)  They are intelligent people, but when they say like every three words, they don’t sound intelligent.  In fact, my husband just had a client (probably a twenty-something) who had the same verbal tic.  He said it was incredibly difficult to understand her point when she was talking to him.  I want my students to get out of that bad habit while they are still young.  I don’t want them to go into a job interview and get rejected for the position because they can’t speak clearly.

I will probably make an even bigger deal of this next year.  So if you are a student reading my blog, here is your homework for the summer: eliminate filler words from your conversations!  (And also, don’t check out yet.  We do still have four more days of school!)


About Karen Koch

I like the old-fashioned lifestyle. All this new-fangled stuff baffles me sometimes. I cherish living out in the country, raising chickens and rabbits, planting fruit trees, and enjoying a slow life filled with beautiful words and ideas. I don't always achieve a slow life. I teach middle school English and manage a little burgeoning farm with my husband, and somewhere in the midst of that, I try to find time for writing, running, knitting, reading, and playing the ukulele. And sometimes, I actually succeed.

One response »

  1. I have to watch myself – I can pick up verbal tics from the folks around me so easily. I remember having a coworker who ended most of her sentences, “know what I mean?” It took me forever to stop saying that after she’d moved on to a new job!


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