The overuse of, like, filler words

An epidemic has rampaged through every nook and cranny of American dialogue, with no sign of ceasing its havoc upon public discourse. Indeed, the malevolent word ‘like’ has infiltrated every other sentence spoken by young adults in today’s new era of conversation, and I am merely here to shine a beacon of awareness upon the matter, not to unwield a vitriolic slew of insults and jeers at those who misuse the filler word. Full disclaimer: in no manner am I attempting to portray myself as ‘woke,’ considering that I once pitchforked these speech irregularities into my daily linguistic habits, far more than those who presently do. And yes, I am fully cognizant that I sound similar to a Gen Xer ripping on every facet of millennials and younger generations, but there is some substance to this argument. 

Here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison it goes without saying that the student populous is, for the most part, a pack of smart young people that carries itself in a manner of intellect and great propriety. With that brainy charisma comes the tendency to have thought-provoking ideas, and the capacity to express them in an eloquent fashion. But, nevertheless, us youngins abuse the living hell out of ‘like,’ and that’s not an understatement. Just stand by a stoplight on the intersection of University and Park, and eavesdrop on any bout of small talk going on. 

After you become mindful of the infestation it has upon your every attempt to speak, it starts to become pestering. In a way, it’s similar to becoming aware of whenever you blink, but maybe that’s a good thing. When I was younger, my dad would mock me at the dinner table every time I said you-know-what. Often, I would respond with a “Yeah, I know, DAD!” and a shake of the head, while continuing on with mowing down whatever was on my plate, with little thought to it. But, after a while, his conditioning resonated, and, lo and behold, it worked. 

Maybe this all boils down to Western society’s increasing dependence for quick, on-demand interactions, where technological innovations through social networking platforms, such as Twitter or Instagram, provide us with instant access to information. Everything is seemingly a few keystrokes or swipes away in this new Age of Information. Our Twitter fingers are often cushioned by an aspect of privacy, where we ourselves can take pauses to think through what it is we wish to express, and next physically correct any blunders on the screen.  This is just a theory, but that same process may not translate as well to vocalizations, where people tend to simultaneously think and speak, which brings out the Grim Reaper of everyday talk: filler words — such as ‘um,’ ‘so,’ and the king of them all, ‘like.’ Our mouths are sort of like Road Runner, often leaving our Wile E. Coyote-like brains in the dust when it comes to getting words out to the world. For most, the two don’t move alongside one another in perfect harmony. Taking that into account, the looming presence of instant media and news may indirectly pressure our rhetoric in the real world.

My self-prescribed solution, you may ask? Just slow down when you talk, or, as I learned in a kindergarten infographic, think before you speak! Neither of those tips is groundbreaking, but they nevertheless provide a potent remedy to the often overlooked issue. After all, one of the major ways that others judge character is through mannerisms, in which speaking is a large part. 

Owen is a freshman intending on majoring in finance and history. Do you often notice the use of 'filler words' in everyday conversation? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com. 

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