My recent column on filler words, such as you know, well, uh, and basically , has provoked numerous responses.
Most readers agree that the two terms suggested by Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary for such props-- filler and hesitation form --will not do.
Most also dislike my own nominee--\o7 plug\f7 .
Sondra Levi Zeldin, an English teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills, says her old professor called them \o7 verbal pauses\f7 , and she theorizes that they occur because the brain outraces the mouth.
She compares the phenomenon with shifting gears in a car. If one does not shift properly a grating noise results. She claims that many of her former students have eliminated \o7 verbal pauses\f7 by thinking "before they engage their mouths."
I applaud Mrs. Zeldin's efforts, but I am skeptical that children, or anyone, can be taught to think before they speak. You know?
Al Sonnenstein of Laguna Hills says I should be ashamed of \o7 plug \f7 when there is already "a beautiful word that fits the situation perfectly."
The word is \o7 embololalia \f7 or \o7 embolalia\f7 , and it is defined in Webster's Third New International Dictionary as "the interpolation of meaningless words or sounds into speech."
A vote for \o7 embolalia \f7 comes also from Shelby J. Light of Long Beach, who notes that it comes from the Greek \o7 embolos\f7 , meaning air or a wedge-shaped filler. "Those words are just air. I have taught that to upper grade pupils for years."
As an example, he cites the baseball player's answer when asked where he was born. "Basically, I was born in Brooklyn."
Light admits his own culpability. "When I objected to my students' use of embolalia, they would ask me what I meant when I started a sentence with 'Uh.' "
\o7 Embololalia \f7 (or \o7 embolalia\f7 ) seem to fit, but I suspect that most of us, in trying to say, uh, \o7 embololalia\f7 , would find ourselves resorting to it.
Chris Kirchner of Orange notes that he found the adjective \o7 phatic \f7 (from the Greek \o7 phatos\f7 for spoken, in "I Always Look Up the Word Egregious" by Prof. Maxwell Nurnberg.
A phatic clause, he says, is one that establishes an atmosphere of sociability, rather than communicating ideas. For example: "Have a nice day."
Robert Glick recalls that several years ago The Times had an article on such terms as \o7 y'know, ugh, er \f7 and so forth and called them \o7 intercalations\f7 .
Glick says he found this definition of it in his Oxford English Dictionary: "The insertion of any addition between the members of an existing or recognized series. . . ."
OK, but like \o7 embololalia \f7 it's, well, a mouthful.
Dr. Loren T. DeWind says he has heard \o7 intercalation \f7 used in the phrase \o7 sparring intercalation\f7 . "Sparring refers of course to the hesitation which is buying time before the punch word."
It seems to me that \o7 sparring \f7 is implied in \o7 intercalation\f7 , and is simply unnecessary baggage, like the terms it is meant to define.
However, the same term (\o7 sparring intercalation\f7 ) is offered by Helen W. Root, who says that her Beverly Hills gynecologist gave it to her many years ago. "This covers \o7 y'know\f7 , \o7 OK\f7 , et al."
"Rather than being called \o7 plugs\f7 ," writes Fran Rowland of Fullerton, "those interjections you speak of might be called \o7 cushions\f7 . Somewhat soft little pillows strewn around to make one comfortable and at ease when expressing an idea."
A series of \o7 you knows\f7 may make the speaker comfortable, but they don't have that effect on his auditor.
Larry Ong of Anaheim asks whether there is a word for the periodical interjections a listener makes, such as "Ah, yes," "I see," or "Uh huh!"
That's a good question. There are dozens of them: "You don't say!" "Is that so?" "You don't mean it!" "I can't believe it!" "I hear you talking"' "Really!" "Tell me about it."
Ong says years ago he read an article in The Times about conversation between the sexes and it concluded that women use such interjections more than men because they are better listeners, and like to reassure their interlocutors (men) that they are listening.
In a UC Berkeley study of gender in speech, transcripts of 11 two-person cross-sex conversations showed that men interrupted 96% of the time. In another study, women asked more than 70% of the questions. Men did most of the talking and chose most of the subjects.
Meanwhile the ubiquitous \o7 well \f7 has turned up in advertising. Dorothy Marsh of Fullerton sends a HomeFed ad that reads: "Everyone has to wait for their CD to mature. But at HomeFed Bank, we're offering a few other incentives, so the time spent waiting will seem--well, shorter."