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Fillers - filling the empty spaces with empty words

by: Marilyn Owen (14 November 2014)

Most of us use, from time to time, common filler words, such as er, um and ah in everyday speech, and these mark moments of hesitation, giving the speaker time to make their point. There’s nothing wrong with such fillers, but they can be annoying if overdone. Fortunately, these kinds of small hesitation marks rarely appear in written English (unless, of course, in dialogue) – otherwise there really would be a lot of errors for a proofreader to delete!

However, another annoying habit many speakers and writers have is that of interposing what I call filler adjectives and adverbs. Consider words such as apparently, obviously, literally, decidedly, and on occasion, absolutely. I say 'on occasion' because – definitely – I absolutely adore that word absolutely . . . (so to me that one is an exception to my rule that filler adverbs are – absolutely – annoying, aggravating and their continued and repeated use by a speaker or writer makes it difficult for the listener or reader to follow a line of communication or reasoning. A good proofreader or copy editor will tidy up a document that has such redundant words and make it more concise and clearer to read and understand.

Now and again – but, hopefully, not too often – one comes across a person who – absolutely – litters their sentences with such words. In fact, that is what happened to me today. This particular person – literally – peppered every sentence he used with the words literally and obviously and this is when neither of the two words had any meaningful role in the speaker’s communication to me! It made me wonder why people use such words all the time. It also made me wonder what made people latch on to a particular word. I once knew a girl, as a teenager, whose every third word was apparently, which, even then, I found to be irksome. Was this, perhaps, a sign of the linguist or proofreader to come? At university, my own tutor in Spanish literature uttered a similar filler adverb constantly in his tutorials and seminars. Strangely, for the life of me, I cannot remember what it was . . .

I wonder how many of us have our own favourite filler adverb. Do you tend to overuse in speech – or worse, write – apparently, literally, obviously or even really? I can’t help thinking that were we to eliminate such words from our language it would be much the richer for the lack of them.


Views: 1767

Other articles on Communication and language and Punctuation, spelling and grammar

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Ref: 130 I can't stand 'like' and 'you know' peppering a conversation.
Romany - 13:46 14-11-2014
Ref: 129 I'm glad authors don't try and replicate real speech in their novels. Imagine all the rubbish you'd have to wade through. It would make a book unreadable.
Garry - 13:07 14-11-2014

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