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Leah's Lowdown: Um's the word


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Leah, Queen's Square | May 1, 2017

I consider myself a well-educated, smart person with a good job where I deal with the public. So why can’t I stop saying things like “um” and “like” all the time? My sister, in the manner of family members who love you and bug you, said to me recently, “Stop saying “like” all the time! You sound like a teenager!”

Meaningless filler words. Disfluencies. Gratuitous vocabulary. We all do it sometimes without even noticing. Think of how many times you say uh, um, like, right, ok. Alright, now actually listen to yourself talk. I bet you do it more than you think. I know when I tried to stop a couple of years ago, it was very eye-opening. Yikes! Do I really sound like a stereotypical 80s valley girl?

Luckily we’re not alone in this. According to, “Researchers say that about 20% of “words” in everyday conversation are disfluencies.” And it happens around the world too. “The Turks say “mmmmm”. The Japanese say “eto” (eh-to) and “ano” (ah-no).” For more interesting around the world filler words (and tips), check out the original article at

It’s ok to use these fillers with your friends but if you’re giving an important speech, trying to impress someone or sell something, they’re killers! Since these words distract your listener and damage your credibility, you may want to try to tame them. There are a couple things you can do:

  • Pause before you answer
  • Record yourself to see how much you do this
  • Get a friend or family member to be your speech coach
  • Try to relax
  • Prepare (a lot!)
  • Keep it short and sweet

So May is my month to try to control my horrible “like” obsession. I’ll post a comment mid-month to update you on my battle. I hope you’ll join me and let me know how your fight against filler words is going.


Submitted by Leah (not verified) on

Ok I'm halfway through the month and my experiment to not use so many filler words. Whew, this is harder than I thought! I've tried having my boyfriend point out how much I'm saying "like" (that was a horrifying weekend)! Just trying to pause and be conscious of my filler words has helped but I still feel this is quite the battle. But I will persevere!

Submitted by Dawn (not verified) on

Hi Leah! This is something I noticed about my own speech habits a couple of years back while I was in university. And, like you, I wanted to try make sure that my speech reflected my thoughts and conveyed them effectively. I found that really slowing down while composing answers to questions and thinking about what I was about to actually say helped. It seems so simple, but it does take practice. Thanks for sharing!

Submitted by Leah (not verified) on

Hi Dawn, Thanks for your tip! I too find that slowing down helps (which does take some time to adapt to since I'm so used to just saying what's on my mind immediately). I'm glad I'm not the only person who struggles with this!