I once had a coworker who used a lot of “filler speech.” Everything that she said was peppered with words and phrases like “um,” “like,” “I mean,” and “you know.” Just in case you’re not familiar with this style of speech, here’s a sample:

Me: Hey, how are you?
Coworker: Oh, I mean… it’s been a long week, you know? So, I’m a little tired. But… um… I thought I’d go for some coffee. Do you want to come with me?
Me: Yeah, OK.

She definitely got her point across. But with all those extra words and pauses, it took her a little longer to get there.

Is filler speech annoying? Maybe a little. That’s probably why we’re always told to avoid saying these types of words when giving speeches and presentations. And I think that it’s easy to write off people who use a lot of filler speech as being silly or indecisive. But recent research suggests that we might not be giving these people enough credit.

Sociolinguists Laserna, Seih, and Pennebaker studied the language patterns used by a large sample of people, and identified those who favored the use of filler speech (specifically the words “uh,” “um,” “I mean,” “you know,” and “like”). They also examined the results of the personality tests that each participant had taken. Ultimately, the investigators found that people who used filler speech tended to be more thoughtful and conscientious than those who did not.

So… like… it might be annoying. But according to investigators, the people who use filler speech are “more thoughtful and aware of themselves and their surroundings.” And that’s certainly a good thing. So I guess it can’t hurt to be a little tolerant. You know?

What do you think about filler speech? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below!


Laserna, C. M., Seih, Y., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2014). Um… who like says you know: Filler word use as afunction of age, gender, andpersonality. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 33(3) 328-338.