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Empty words: How to get rid of fillers in your speech

09.01.2020 Author: psiholog pavel horoshutin

“I realized the extent of my filler word “disease” when these filler words seeped not only in my daily conversations, but also into written communication with friends and co-workers. I am a literate person, I do not make mistakes in writing, I properly place commas even in chats with friends. One day, during one such chat, I found myself thinking whether I should set off “kinda” with commas in the sentence. That’s when I understood I didn’t even need that word, it felt stupid and out of place. If I pronounce it with a specific intonation, I suddenly feel like a delinquent squatting with a cigarette. Not the best sight in the world, let me say.

I started to pay attention to my speech and was horrified to find out that I regularly use this “kinda” in almost every sentence. I listened to the voice messages I was sending to my friend and distinctly heard other expletives such as “ah”, “errr”, “umm” and many others.

I went even further and re-read all my outgoing e-mails. Can you imagine my frustration after finding multiple e-mails starting with “So”?

That’s when I decided that I had to do something about it, and I googled “how to get rid of the filler word “kinda”.”

– Elena, 27, graphic designer

After reading this short story, you might have recognized yourself or one of your friends. Filler words are called filler for a reason: they slip into our speech and fill the voids in it that we don’t fill ourselves. Like the parasites, they “eat” all the meaning, steal time for themselves and interfere with understanding. In this article we are going to tell you how to find filler words in your speech and what those words can say about you. Feel free to learn how to stop using fillers and start to speak clearly.

Contents:

  1. Filler words and other garbage in our speech (with the focus on Russian)
  2. 10 filler words you should get rid of, and their meaning
  3. Why filler words appear
  4. Harm and benefit of filler words
  5. Getting rid of filler words: tips and exercises
  6. Finding replacement for filler words
  7. When you cannot do it alone: 7Spsy method

Filler words and other garbage in our speech (with the focus on Russian)

Parasite words

Russian language is rich with the means of expression. It has precise words to convey any thought and describe any subtle, passionate or deep feeling. However, in everyday life speech gets filled with garbage words, becomes ineloquent, inarticulate and confusing. Filler words break the flow of thought and make it much harder for the other person to comprehend it properly. Such filler words do not bear their own meaning, but they tell us a lot about the person and their social circle.

The problem of “purity” of Russian language is being widely discussed among native speakers nowadays, but this happens mostly because of borrowings from English: words like flashback, follower, mainstream, background and feedback have already rooted themselves in Russian. This is a natural process, as any language goes through such change: new words enter due to emergence of new technology and phenomena. Moreover, each language changes towards increased simplicity. The word “smartphone” is much simpler than “smart mobile phone” or even “portable mobile phone with increased range of functions”.

Another aspect of the purity of speech is the use of swearing. Some experts even say that swearing is a center-piece of Russian language, the very thing that makes it so powerful and evocative. Some swear words are thought to be extremely succinct and expressive. However, the swearing habit has a strong impact on intellectual development and establishing social connections.

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Let’s stop talking about borrowed words and swearing for a while. After all, unlike filler words, they have specific meaning and sentiment. We must admit that sometimes we cannot fully convey our thoughts without using borrowed words or swearing. However, filler words are truly garbage, they are the elements we can easily live without.

Now where do filler words come from? They come from other parts of speech, losing their initial meaning. Their origin words remain in the language in their original meaning as regular members of the sentence, but filler words just slip in the pauses in speech.

10 filler words you should get rid of, and their meaning

get rid of the words of parasites

Even though we barely notice filler words entering our daily speech, each and every of such repeated words can tell a lot about a person and their character. [1] Here we are going to raise several examples of filler words from Russian language, with their English counterparts for reference, and discuss the meaning behind them. Please note that there might still be difference in meaning between a Russian word and its English counterpart.

1) “Короче” (“Ok”, “look”)

A person, who often uses this word, especially at the beginning of the sentence, conveys their indifference, as if they are in a hurry and wish to finish the conversation soon. They are inclined towards superficial actions, evading responsibility and postponing decisions and tasks. You might remember that time when you were trying to make plans with your friend, and they told you: “Короче (Ok, look), let’s call each other later and decide then”. No wonder there was no call and no plans after that.

2) “Типа” (“kinda”)

People who favor this word cannot easily handle pauses in their speech, so they try to fill the silence with a cohesive word. That behavior implies shyness, lack of confidence in oneself and accuracy of one’s statements. Such people do not like sudden changes, feel like a fish out of water when they are faced with the need to make decisions and think fast. They always try to think carefully about each and every step. Such people are often anxious, they easily panic and fall into despair.

3) “Как бы” (“sort of”)

A person who always breaks their speech with this word tries to leave themselves some elbow room. Such filler word is particularly popular among young people. They feel that they have their whole life ahead of them, and all the conditions are relative. They do not bear any responsibility and expect all the things will simply sort themselves.

4) “Это самое” (“Well”)

This phrase implies laziness and lack of clear understanding of one’s own speech. People who use it can be unreliable and impulsive. They try to shift the blame to someone all the time, so that they can escape responsibility.

In many cases this phrase is used when a person lacks in confidence or cannot grasp the situation quick enough. That is why it is often heard from students during exam, when they cannot properly answer the question, or from schoolchildren told to solve problems in front of the whole class. By using this phrase, they try to cover their lack of knowledge.

5) “Так/как сказать” (“in a way”)

This phrase can also be heard from an undiligent student who uses it to buy some time by pretending “I did study but forgot, so I scramble for words”. People using this phrase often try to lead the other person astray, they try to evade telling the truth, making explicit confessions or speaking about uncomfortable topics. A good example of it can be found in a song by Russian bands “Kasta” and “Brainstorm”. The song tells about the father, who tries to find the way to tell his son where babies come from (here is an English translation of it): “In what a way can I tell my son that a chevalier and a lady can, in a way, overcome a barrier…”

6) “На самом деле” (“actually”)

This expression is often used by self-confident and egoistic people. They are convinced that their judgment is true and trust only their own experience. They cannot be told otherwise. Moreover, they like to engage in arguments for the sake of arguing. It is important that they have the last word. On the other hand, such people are also determined in their work and try to get down to the bottom of everything.

7) “Вообще-то” (“in fact”)

Impulsive people often add this phrase to their speech. They are impetuous, quarrelsome, they try to prove their authority and competence. Another similar phrase, a more contemporary one, is “на минуточку” (“wait a minute”). If the format of articles in our blog allowed for the use of emoji, we would have definitely included here the one with an index finger up.

8) “Кстати” (“by the way”)

By using this word, people demonstrate their constant desire to draw attention to themselves. “By the way” is their way to enter any conversation, even if whatever they say afterwards is only remotely, if at all, related to the topic. A subvariant of this filler is “кстати да” (“by the way, yes”) helps a person affiliate themselves with another person’s opinion, but without the need to express their own point of view. A person who uses this phrase often is more likely to seek to please people of authority in order to have some personal gain.

9) “В принципе” (“technically”)

Frequent use of this expression implies that a person finds it easier to agree with other people, their opinions, plans and conditions rather than to propose and formulate their own. Or, on the contrary, they don’t like to vocalize their disagreement. They create the conditions in which others try to convince them of something. Such people often respond to propositions of others in a drawling and brooding manner: “В принципе, да, но…” (“Technically yes, but…”).

10) “Блин” (“crap”)

This word, as the replacement for swearing, is often used by impulsive, inattentive and absent-minded people. They find it hard to control their emotions, they often bumble and feel guilty, which can lead to anxiety and self-chastising.

Why the filler words appear

Reasons for the appearance of junk words in speech

After reading the list above you might already be thinking about removing filler words from your active vocabulary. We will talk about it a bit later. First, we are going to look at the reasons why they take a firm hold in our speech.

“Radio and TV broadcast syndrome”

Yves Prigent, a psychologist and communications specialist, considers modern standards of radio and TV broadcast to be the main reason for a sharp increase and propagation of filler words in people’s speech. During broadcast, pauses are unacceptable, so the host tries to make their speech longer and fill it thick with words, often fast and meaningless. People catch on that habit. They do so not just because they often hear this during broadcast, but also because they subconsciously wish to be like popular and influential people. [2]

Subconscious desire to raise or lower speed

We rarely think through all we would like to say in our everyday life. Person’s speech is, generally, quite spontaneous, unless this person has to read aloud and make speeches in their line of work. When we need to think about how to develop our idea, struggle to find a right word, try to hide our incompetence in the matter or are simply feeling anxious, we often resort to filler words. When writing, we usually stop typing then, erase some words and type other. When speaking, however, we fill the pauses with interjections in order to give ourselves a timeout to think. Or, on the contrary, we try to leap ahead and achieve understanding with the other person by saying something like: “Hey, you, err, do remember when we saw that thing, you know!”

Sense of belonging to a certain group or age

Each social and professional circle has its own “fancy” words. For example, English borrowings are quite popular among designers. It’s much easier for them to “approve visual” than to search in their heads for a proper Russian term. In the 90ies slang for “cool” in Russia was “клёво”, after year 2000 it was “круто”, and now it’s mostly “топчик”. Such words spread like a disease. They often express the whole range of emotions and can be used in almost every sentence.

Poor vocabulary

Use of filler words can be both a reason and a consequence of poor vocabulary. Nowadays we learn a lot of information from TV, internet and social network rather than proper literature. On social network, specifically, information is often simplified and given in small portions, so that users could easily consume content. A person who doesn’t read books, doesn’t present in front of the audience, has no need to study large volumes of text in their line of work gradually develops poor vocabulary. Under such conditions we become susceptible for the appearance of filler words.

Logophobia and glossophobia

Logophobia is the fear of speaking in general. Glossophobia is the fear of speaking in front of the audience. The both can be the reason for short appearance of excessive interjections and filler words in our speech. During conversation or public speaking a person is under stress. In order to reduce the sense of discomfort, to take some time and organize their thoughts they use certain cohesive words. In the future such words can root themselves in the person’s speech, like stuttering.

Harm and benefit of filler words

About the dangers and benefits of parasitic words

First of all, why do we need to get rid of filler words? According to the institute of public opinion “Anketolog”, more than half of Russians are irritated by the use of filler words, and 89% think that well-bred speech is a sign of high intelligence level. [3]
Having a conversation with a person you are close with and have similar style of speech is one thing. Building new relationships, talking to new co-workers or clients is a whole different one. However literate and competent you may be, if you fill your speech with lots of words that bear little meaning you may be perceived as a simpleton with poor vocabulary. The use of such words can irritate the other person and push them towards ending the conversation sooner. Another downside of filler words is that they expose your insecurity, agitation and vulnerability to your partner in conversation. That gives them room for manipulation.

Speech overflowing with filler words can become a serious obstacle for career advancement. An employee who cannot even have a coherent conversation with their co-workers is quite unlikely to become a top manager. The danger here lies not only in “translation trouble”, but also in overall decrease in level of credibility. What would happen when you decide to find another job? You may have an impeccable CV, you may be a skilled professional, but if you simply cannot present yourself during the interview, speak about your past experience without mumbling, an HR will likely doubt your expertise and competence.

Finally, filler words can easily interfere with your romantic life. Just imagine, a young man approaches a young girl and tells her, like in a comedy sketch: “I, err, y’know, kinda, well, like you.” There aren’t many women who can appreciate such sentiment and reciprocate. This example is, of course, exaggerated, but such jokes appear for a reason.

With all the downsides that filler words have, they do, indeed, have upsides. Sometimes they can actually enable comprehension and help us find common ground with another person. People working in creative fields, like actors, impersonators and comedians, do need these words to portray distinctive features of their characters. Even for a common person the use of filler words is not always a sign of low intelligence or insecurities. However, if the idea to get rid of filler words crosses your mind rather often, then the problem is quite substantial: the sway of garbage in your speech interferes with smooth communication.

Getting rid of filler words: tips and exercises

How to get rid of word parasites

By this point you might already be quite eager to get rid of all the garbage in your speech for good. Let’s look at several pieces of advice and describe the methods that can help you. Strap yourself, as this is not an easy job to do. But know that the result will definitely be worth it.

1) Listen to yourself carefully

First of all, make a list of your personal filler words. Even if you think you know precisely which words you have to fight, put them down anyway. Listen to your outgoing voice messages, look at the recordings of your public presentations if you have any. You might expand your list after doing that.

2) Find allies

Stating your commitment publicly is one of the best motivations to get rid of filler words. Tell your friends or relatives about your commitment. They might want to join you in working on their vocabulary together with you. Or they might offer their help in controlling your speech and pointing out any deviations from the chosen path.

3) Introduce penalties

Svetlana Vinokurova, who teaches elocution and public performance, gives this advice to all her students. Create the conditions for yourself, in which you will suffer a penalty for any filler word. For example, tell your partner to snap their fingers any time you say a filler word. This penalty can also be monetary, for a small sum at a time. Such simple measures can make the speaker think twice before using the undesirable words. [4]

4) Read more

Take breaks for reading during the day. This will help you keep your vocabulary sharp. Make a choice towards books, magazines or blogs with long articles. Reading short posts and news articles is not as efficient, it just fosters mosaic thinking. Spend at least 20 minutes a day on continuous reading, without distracting yourself with other activities or gadgets.

5) Don’t be afraid to be silent

Probably, you are using filler words and drawn-out sounds to fill in awkward pauses in your speech, which appear when you search for the right words or gather your thoughts. Try to stop doing that. Silence, unless it becomes too long, adds credibility to your speech and gives the other person time to think about its content. Excessive words and interjections, on the other hand, distract from that. A song by Andrey Makarevich describes it perfectly (once again, an English translation of it):

“Let’s make the pauses in our speech,

Let’s speak and then again get silent.

In such a manner we can reach

The meaning that we all desire.”

6) Prepare your speech

If you have to speak in front of the audience, the best way to prevent the appearance of filler words is to prepare and rehearse your speech properly. Do not leave it to the last minute if you want everything to go smoothly. If you have fear of stage or public speaking, find the ways to defeat it.

7) Broadcast yourself

If you don’t have to speak in front of the audience in your daily life, a video blog or short stories on social network can be a good alternative. Find a topic that can be interesting to your friends and shoot short video podcasts, trying to speak clearly and on point without using unnecessary words. This might seem really hard at first. However, once doing so becomes a habit, you will notice the improvements.

8) Retell literary texts

Retelling literary texts can help you get rid of filler words in your speech. Take, for example, works of Chekhov. He has a lot of short yet deep stories. Read the text several times and try to retell it to your friend, or record your retelling if you’re doing it alone. Be careful not to use any meaningless words.

9) Use the method of multiple repeat

Why not to use the “ad absurdum” method? Some people can get rid of compulsive words by continuously repeating them. The point is this: when you use a filler word often in your daily speech, you might not be noticing and recognizing it all the time. However, when you make yourself say it again and again, it will start to irritate you more and more. Later, it can have a positive effect on your speech.

10) Expand your vocabulary

Rich vocabulary is perceived as a sign of good education and helps improve self-confidence. Make yourself a dictionary where you will put interesting expressions you’ve heard from your friends, co-workers and media persons. Install an app that will send you a notification every day with a new word and its meaning. You might find that you already know some of the words, but other will be completely new to you. It is important not only to memorize the new word or expression, but also to think about which daily life situations you can use it in.

Finding replacement for filler words

How to find a replacement for the word parasite

Like with other bad habits, you can get rid of filler words by finding something to replace them. Olga Severskaya, linguist and the author of the book “Govorim po russki” (Let’s speak Russian), recommends replacing compulsive short verbiage with longer collocations and expletives. [5]

When you cannot do it alone: 7Spsy method

“There is a lot of advice on the internet about getting rid of filler words and swearing. I tried to follow it, even made a bet with my co-worker for a large sum of money that I will survive a month without swearing at the workplace. Also, for each “err”, “well”, “kinda” I put a quarter in a piggy bank. In the end, I’ve lost a bet and broke a lot of paper money into coins, so that I had some to put in a piggy. The bad habit, however, remained intact.”

– Evgeniy, 35, auditor

What should you do if all known ways to get rid of filler words were ineffective? Most likely, it happened because the use of those words stems from another underlying and hidden problem. It is important to determine when, where and with whom you use compulsive expressions, and also what they can tell about your personality and character.
This habit of using filler words or swearing might have appeared because of another dependence or addiction. A modern method of behavioral therapy, 7Spsy behavioral modification technique, can help you find the true reason and improve your speaking habits.
7Spsy is a registered method based on the works of I. P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A. A. Ukhtomsky etc. Classes of 7Spsy behavioral modification are held online. This method helps you discover hidden mindset and get rid of persistent habits and addictions within 6 weeks. All work is conducted in absolute confidentiality. Our psychologist will keep in touch throughout the whole course. You can use any means of communication you prefer: a phone, an online chat or e-mail.

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As the result, you will change your manner of speech, stop using garbage words and learn to speak freely and smoothly.

References:

  1. Nu, koroche, v obshhem, tipa, test. Kovarny`e slova, kotory`e vy`dadut vas s golovoj
  2. (https://www.nsk.kp.ru/daily/26517.3/3532730/).
  3. Chto soobshhayut o nas slova-parazity`(http://www.psychologies.ru/articles/chto-soobschayut-o-nas-slova-parazityi/).
  4. «Koroche» ili «kak by`»: kakie slova chashhe vsego ispol`zuyut rossiyane v rechi
  5. (https://vostokmedia.com/news/society/13-07-2019/koroche-ili-kak-by-kakie-slova-chasche-vsego-ispolzuyut-rossiyane-v-rechi).
  6. Ne ori, a oratorstvuj! (https://rberega.info/archives/2833).
  7. Severskaya O.I., «Govorim po-russki s Ol`goj Svereskoj», Slovo, 2004 g.