February 14, 2003

Saying Exactly um like What You Mean

It's a wonder I made it past grade school. I say this because I found a high school notebook the other day and was astounded to recall my doodles, which were of high quality, while the subject notes were obviously penned by an uninspired and distracted teenager. My doodles were way better than my notes, yet I was never tested on them. Pity. Many of these marginal works of penmanship took the form of imitative art. Without looking at the captions I could recognize classmates and teachers by the caricatured features that made them uniquely recognisable as themselves. I couldn't help it. My pen had a life of its own. Even today, I can't sit and listen to anything without a pen and scrap of paper hidden in my palm to receive the spirals, dots, cubes, arrows and the occasional face that give my hands something to do while my mind is wandering all around the speaker's words. I live in constant fear of a pop-test.

The other flavor of high school notebook non-notes were the hash marks. One page contained IIII's and the final hash mark "/" recording in groups of five all the "uh"s for one of Mr. Caudill's history lectures; there were more than 100. Another notebook subject tallied "um"s and "er"s for the chemistry teacher. In other classes I remember not hearing the lecture material for the "sort of"s, or the "you see"s, "and so on and so forth"s. But these aggravating gap-filling speech bullets were as much a part of the memorable characters in my school as the freckles, buck teeth and the Coke-bottle glasses I drew on the faces. I admit, I have a low threshold for hearing these irritating mannerisms that others seem to be able to ignore, and once I have heard them, I find it hard to 'hear past them'.

I remember that I once got nailed by a teacher recording her "um"s. I must have seemed too intent in what I was doing, and she knew I was up to something. She took up my notebook and during class while we were supposed to be reading something in our texts, she thumbed through my notebook, looking at the hash marks and the caricatures. Oh what was in that notebook! I was sweating bullets. But I could see her doing her best to keep from smiling. This was a good sign. I was mildly reprimanded at the end of class, and slyly complimented on my artwork. Thank goodness her picture (that paid special attention to her tiny head) was in another notebook!

Knowing how distracting these null-noises are in the spoken word has made me keenly aware of them as well in my own speech, okay? I kind of make an effort so to speak to you might say avoid these words or gutteral utterance sort-of-things. I just never use these speech lubricants, don't you see. Rather than fill the-um pauses, as it were, between phrases with what you might call a 'spacer', it's better to just take a breath uh and think about your next sentence and stuff and whathaveyouthere. Right? You know what I'm sayin'?

Posted by fred1st at February 14, 2003 05:48 AM | TrackBack

I know exactly what you're sayin', ayuh.

Posted by: DCE at February 14, 2003 07:22 AM

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