Just because your lips are moving, are you making sense?

Are you a movie star on a television talk show; a politician hogging the news cameras every chance you get; an athlete giving an interview after a game; or an average Joe talking with friends?  In any case, it is helpful if you can communicate in clear, concise sentences.

Is there anyone who has not experienced acute mental anguish while listening to a perplexing interview peppered with “um” and “you know”? Or, have you known the joys of a coma-inducing conversation with someone who could not utter a sentence without such filler sounds?  On such occasions, the words babbling baboon come to mind.  The meaningless noise suggests to any unfortunate soul within earshot that the speaker has no idea what to say and could use some strategically applied duct tape.  Immediately!

Did people ten, twenty or thirty years ago use “um” and “you know” in conversations as much as they do today? Or, is the epidemic inability to communicate caused by a rather recent disease – the 24/7 brain rot?

Before round-the-clock news and all night infomercials, stations went off the air around midnight. If you turned on the television, all you saw was a test pattern which was suspiciously similar to a target used to hone our shooting skills. Just because insomniacs need television programs after midnight, do we have to subject ourselves to the constant chatter of so-called news folks and lip-flapping talking heads?

Talk about beating a dead horse!  If the subject concerns a misbehaving celebrity or yet another political circus, we are bombarded with the same pictures and interviews so many times that the poor “horse” is not only dead it is pulverized.

What about the college graduates turned professional athletes?  Very few can make it through an interview without uttering at least ten “ums” or “you knows” per sentence. Perhaps we should chip in and send them gift certificates for remedial speech classes.

Some of you are burdened with no filters and tend to communicate your thoughts in a blunt manner.  Consequently, when folks try to tell you something and pepper their tales with “you knows” you feel compelled to interrupt and say, “No, I don’t know, tell me.”

Filler words imply that your thoughts are disorganized or you have nothing of consequence to contribute to the conversation. As a consequence of the need to fill the silence, folks are on track to a pre-language version of communication — expressive grunts (a skill perfected by teenagers and uncommunicative spouses). Imagine how simple life at work could be. The boss walks in and grunts once for his coffee.  During meetings a few well-placed grunts let the underlings know exactly how he feels about the matter under consideration, and then the meeting is over.

If little children can manage to chatter away without using “um” and “you know” a dozen times a minute, why is it so hard for adults to do the same?  A friend tells the story of her five-year-old daughter.

Her daughter and another little girl stood in the doorway of the friend’s house and talked for four hours. According to the mother, the young girls covered a great many topics without using filler words.

There is a tale about a group of nuns enjoying a peaceful evening in the convent gathering room. Suddenly, a young nun, who was in charge of refilling the altar wine, rushes in and proceeds to squirt everyone with a water pistol.

Mother Superior had a chat with the inebriated nun. Part of young nun’s punishment was for her to sit in a chair while the rest of the nuns squirted her with water pistols. Perhaps the water pistol penalty could be applied in real life as well.

Every time a person runs out of things to say and resorts to “ums” and “you knows” a stagehand or someone off camera will squirt the offender with a water pistol. Before long, people will learn to be more precise in their speech and less likely to resort to verbal laziness when they have nothing to say.

Water pistols ready?

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