Commentary

Please, Like, Don't Say 'I Think' Anymore -- Ya Know?

In a world where we’re all running a million miles an hour, it’s incredible how little attention we pay to how we speak. Sadly, we’ve begun to lose the art of spoken language.

I think the worst example of this trend is the increasing use of what some people call “lazy fillers” in speech (maybe I’m the only one who calls them that, but whatever).

George Carlin used to joke about the “seven dirty words.”  I refer to the “four lazy words/phrases,” which far too many of us use when speaking to fill the empty space while our brains realize where we are in the sentence and what we’re going to say next. 

There’s no shame in a slight pause when you’re speaking, so I don’t understand the human need to keep things moving along without a break.  It’s good to take a breath and let your thoughts sync in. 

Plus, some of these phrases make you sound like you’re covering up for something – as of you’re a used car salesman who gets paid by the number of words that come out of your mouth.  My advice: Avoid these words in conversation, and allow yourself to take a breath.  I promise you, you’ll come off as more confident and less “shaky” if you do.

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Without further ado, here are those words/phrases I hate hearing:

“Ya know” -- If I knew, you likely wouldn’t have to be telling me.  When you say, “ya know” you either come off as condescending -- or as if I should already know, which makes me feel dumb.  If I knew, I would tell you.

“I think” -- I know this is what you think, or else you wouldn’t be telling me.  Often used at the beginning of a sentence, signaling you are thinking and need a second to come up with a POV.  I don’t mind waiting four seconds for a response – no need to rush it out.

“Like” -- Popularized in the 1980s, this word is used far too much, like, all the time.  It’s frustrating to, like, have to hear it fill, like, every other sentence.  It’s, like, unnecessary.  In fact, it is unnecessary – not simply “like” unnecessary.

“Umm” -- The laziest of filler words ever. If you sit back and start counting how many times others use it, it becomes a fun game but an overwhelming distraction. I once figured out that a speaker had used the word “umm” more than 287 times in a five-minute pitch. Seriously. Rather than wasting the breath, take a second and organize your thoughts.  You’ll appear much more confident.

A solid rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t use the word in a sentence in a written document, you shouldn’t be saying it, ya know?  It’s, like, unnecessary to fill the space.  I think, if I were responsible for a large corporation, I would, like, umm, train people in executive positions, to like, ya know, not say these things.  It’s, like a poor reflection on them, ya know?

And trust me – I am nobody perfect.  It’s an ongoing struggle and one you have to be paying attention to every day. These are bad habits, but ones worth trying to rectify in order to present yourself as someone who knows what they’re doing.  Ya know?

19 comments about "Please, Like, Don't Say 'I Think' Anymore -- Ya Know?".
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  1. Beth Donnelly Egan from Syracuse University, July 29, 2015 at 9:39 a.m.

    Thank you Cory. A much needed reminder for young and old alike.

  2. Jordan Feivelson from ALC, July 29, 2015 at 9:51 a.m.

    Ending a sentence with "Right?" should garner an honorable mention.

  3. Frank Danay from Frank Danay, July 29, 2015 at 10:19 a.m.

    Some excellent points, here, but I take exception to "I think." I've started using it more deliberately to indicate -- and to remind myself -- that what I'm saying is my perception, not an objective fact. It further indicates that I'm open to rethinking my position if presented with new information or a more generous perspective. I'm sure it can be lazy in some uses, but as public discourse (especially online) get increasingly more divisive, using "I think" can be a good habit to mindfully adopt.

  4. James Hering from The Richards Group, July 29, 2015 at 10:26 a.m.

    So true... well said.

  5. Steve Baldwin from Didit, July 29, 2015 at 10:32 a.m.

    The reason that these words pop up so often in meetings is that they function as placeholders. When someone says "umm..." "ahhhh..." or "well..." this utterance telegraphs a message that indicates "I'm not finished yet -- DO NOT JUMP IN." This is necessary now because people don't listen to other people anymore when they speak: they simply hold their thoughts until there's a micro-second of silence. Then they pounce. This isn't a problem just with Millenialls -- it's a problem with everyone whose brain has been addled by the uber distractions of the Web.

    So it's a failure of listening as much as it is with speaking.

  6. Angela Karnes from Nationwide, July 29, 2015 at 10:47 a.m.

    Thanks, Cory. If anyone wants to brush up on speaking skills, join a Toastmasters club where your "filler words" (as they are called) are counted and reported at the end of the meeting. One learns to pause (in place of using filler words) and to present well so that one does not need them. TM will absolutely make one more aware during prepared speeches but also it filters into one's daily conversations. I hear filler words more acutely everywhere - I can't turn it off now.

    I especially like your rule of thumb; that if you would not write it in correspondence - even casual emails, do not utter it. Great takeaway!

  7. Tippy Mcfoo from capital newspapers, July 29, 2015 at 10:56 a.m.

    Umm, ironic that you used "I think" to open your second paragraph. I think that's, like, poor editing, ya know?

    Oh, and totally agree with Frank.

  8. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, July 29, 2015 at 10:57 a.m.

    "but whatever" is a filler, ya know?  You are basically diminishing your own opinion.

    "far too many" is redundant, ya know?

    carry on...

    ;-)

  9. Olivia Gushin from Rodale, July 29, 2015 at 11:04 a.m.

    Great points! And I vote the word "totally" be retired unless used when absolutely appropriate (versus totally appropriate)
    And Cory, I believe you meant to write "words sink in"

  10. Jeanette Greider from AIM Media Texas, LLC, July 29, 2015 at 11:15 a.m.

    In West Texas, "you know what I'm sayin'" - ENOUGH!

  11. M McCaughey from ASU, July 29, 2015 at 11:33 a.m.

    to this I would add "whatever" and "so anyway"

  12. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, July 29, 2015 at 12:16 p.m.

    Great and needed but you forgot "I mean..."

  13. Erik Sass from none, July 29, 2015 at 12:30 p.m.

    "There’s no shame in a slight pause when you’re speaking, so I don’t understand the human need to keep things moving along without a break." People's hesitancy when speaking (including my own) makes me think we are waiting for someone else to somehow express our thoughts for us. Michel Foucault, The Discourse on Language: "At the moment of speaking, I would like to have perceived a nameless voice, long preceding me, leaving me merely to enmesh myself in it..."

  14. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, July 29, 2015 at 2:29 p.m.

    My pet peeve is "at the end of the day" -- that one arrived in the last decade with a vengeance. It replaced "when all is said and done" apparently.

  15. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, July 29, 2015 at 3:16 p.m.

    "it goes without saying." But here it comes anyway.

  16. Jonathan Latzer from MarketJon, July 29, 2015 at 5:24 p.m.

    Cory- "And trust me"?????  If I didn't trust you, would I have spent 5 minutes reading this?

  17. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 29, 2015 at 7:31 p.m.

    Learning English in high school grade 9: The you understood. The I think is part of the you understood. If you don't think it you wouldn't have said it. The other one: I is the subjective case. Me is the objective case. Any word that follows a preposition is the objective case. Cory and I (subjects) write a sentence (object). The sentence (subject) is written by Cory and me (objects). (You wouldn't say The sentence is written by I.) It is so simple, it hurts our ears to hear these bent. All of the above should go without saying, I think, you know what I'm saying ? At the end of the day, whatever......

  18. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC, July 30, 2015 at 10:51 a.m.

    Pauses are essential for drama.  What are good presenters if not users of the pregnant pause, which embues its antecedents with significance? 

    Not long ago I was casting the part "Valley Boy" from students at an Ivy League university.  When I asked a dean if he knew anyone who whose speech patterns were heavy with lazy words, a classroom door opened and he said, "Here they come now!"

  19. George Wright from Self, July 30, 2015 at 12:56 p.m.

    Thanks for this article, Cory.
    In speech class in the 80s, we called these words "butchs".
    I would like to add "you guys" to this list.  It often comes across like "youse guys" - vaguely mafioso.  I once counted over 100 of those in a presentation - the sale was not made.  "To tell you the truth" is FAR worse than "I think".  A close partner to "umm" is "uhh" which is the only rhetorical crutch I have seen with our current President.  One tick I have heard in more than a few instances is inappropriate use of the word "no".  Toastmasters International is an underrated organization that I highly recommend to many adults who were not lucky enough to be corrected in the course of thier "regular" education.

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