Join the good fight against the forces of evil! Stop saying "like" and "you know," and ask other people to stop, too. With all the progress civilization has made against indoor public smoking, surely there's hope in the fight against linguistic viruses, too?
Verbal tics tend to fall into three broad categories, but share a common cause and create a common impression: the speaker lacks confidence.
In the first category, we have the hedge words: like, you know, sort of, kind of, and basically. The hedge tics flee from precision and wallow in vagueness. It wasn't milk, it was, you know, like, milk (does that mean it was cream? Butter? White paint?). It was sort of an attack on his character (but the attack failed? Got called off? What?). I basically agreed with him (but I also disagreed. So what am I saying? What's my point?).
If you talk this way, it sounds as though you're afraid to take a position, doubtful about the point you're trying to make, or otherwise unsure of yourself. Is this how you want to be perceived?
Next we have the intensifiers: very, literally, truly, and really. On the surface, these have the opposite effect of the hedge words after all, the speaker is insisting that whatever he's saying is very, really, truly, literally the case. But these words tend to convey an impression of protesting too much, of fear that the speaker won't be taken seriously if she doesn't add that she really, really means this. The intensifiers feel like an email with subject line, "Please Read This! Please!" They're like salt in the hands of a chef insecure about the taste of his cooking: they get overused to conceal a lack of other flavor. And some chefs are so insecure they even salt foods that shouldn't take salt in the first place. "Very unique," anyone? Very necessary?
Third are buzz words and cliches. These vary among industries and cultures, but the basis for their use is the same: "I'm not sure what I'm talking about, but if I use well-worn phrases and ones that seem to be in vogue right now, I'll sound smarter."
No, you won't. Not unless your thoughts are original and insightful. If they're not, hackneyed speech might fool a few people but not anyone who was worth fooling in the first place.
I'll keep adding to this page, but this feels like a good start for now. If you have a linguistic pet peeve, shoot me an email, and maybe it'll make its way onto this page and help make the world a slightly better place.
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