It’s a speech impediment that afflicts the great majority of Americans. I’m talking about punctuating a verbalized thought with “um” and/or “ya know.” Here would be an example: “I was considering um…American foreign policy. And um…it’s about ya know…good versus evil and um…right versus wrong.” Try formulating a thought in words without injecting either “um” or “ya know.” It’s not that easy.
I remember listening to an interview with a cast member from a Woody Allen film. Asked whether she was coached on dialogue during what appeared to be an improvisational scene, the actor answered “All Woody had to offer was ‘just don’t say um.'” I’m with Woody.
Many years ago, the boss of the taxi paper where I worked in between driving shifts wanted me to cold call his competitor’s advertisers (those that weren’t advertising with him) to get them to ante-up with his paper as well. After a few calls, I realized in self-appraisal that I was beginning every solicitation with the word “um.” That was a poor approach. I changed it to “Hi! This is Billy from Taxi Talk newspaper. I see that you advertise with our competitor and not with us. I think you should be with us as well. We distribute 15,000 papers to taxi watering holes all over the city”….and then on and on with the sales pitch. Immediately, my reception improved.
I reflect on this subject today after watching Congresswoman ANNA ESHOO answer JOHN DICKERSON’S first question on FACE THE NATION. I had seen the politician before and noticed her overuse of the word “um.” And so I counted how many times she paused and used that word in her opening answer. Twenty seven times! Initially, I found it annoying – and then almost laughable as the number increased. Why didn’t somebody at some point give her the same advice Woody Allen gave to his cast member? “Jesus H., Mary and Joseph! Can you lose the ‘ums’ when you appear on national tv?”
The worst offender on that front (I actually don’t think that Anna is the worst – though close) was ED KOCH. I couldn’t listen to him talk. Just too many fucking ums! And the guy who virtually never said um or “ya know?” COLIN POWELL.
Maybe I’m crazy. But I think that people who manage to verbalize a thought without injecting 27 “ums” into the statement just might be more intelligent than the person who needs all those quick interludes to gather him or herself. And on that thought um…I think I’ll go get a ya know…cup of coffee.