In last week's issue, we began an exploration of embolalia — the filler we use in everyday speech, to help us gain time to gather our thoughts, or to soften our tone. We focused on the simplest forms — "uh," "um," "er," and so on, and short phrases such as "kind of" and "stuff like that." This time we turn our attention to forms of embolalia so complex that we don't recognize them as filler, even though they contribute nothing to the speaker's message.
The simplest of these are introductory embolalia, which tend to appear at the beginning of the address. They include "actually," "basically," "anyway," "honestly," "seriously," and "well." President Reagan was known for his use of "well." Some of these also have a softening effect, but they convey other messages, too. For instance, "actually," can be condescending, "seriously" can close a humorous interlude, and "anyway" can be a means of rejecting contradiction.
The real experts in using embolalia can make them sound formal, powerful, and valuable, even when they're nothing more than high-falutin' "ums." In this category, President Nixon was known for "Let me say this about that." Examples:
- You have to understand
- That's a great question; Excellent question
- Ah, but there's a hitch
- You might think so, but…
- It's not The real experts in using embolalia
can make them sound formal,
powerful, and valuable, even
when they're nothing more
than high-falutin' "ums"that simple
- On the one hand; On the other hand
- Needless to say; It goes without saying
- Let me be (perfectly) clear
- Let me say this (about that)
- I just want to say (this)
- All I'm saying is (this)
- I would say this
- I would (will) tell you that (something)
- I have to say; I must say
- Let me just make a couple of points
- Could I just mention one other thing
- That's a fascinating point
- The bottom line is
- At the end of the day
- One of the problems was (is)
- My own view is
- The fact (truth) is that
The most complex embolalia are rarely noticed, even though they're common in everyday conversation. About 30 minutes of news programming on U.S. television yielded these examples:
- The general problem we seem to be having is
- There are three reasons (or two or whatever)
- You might think so at first, but if you give it a little thought you realize that something much more complicated is going on
- I believed that myself when I first looked into this matter
- We can rule out that possibility easily, for three reasons
- Nothing could be further from the truth
- Many people do subscribe to that thesis, but there is little hard data to support it. Let me explain.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 22: Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
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