U is for Um…

Is “um” actually a word? And if so, what does it mean?
According to dictionary.com, um is an interjection “used as an expression of doubt, hesitation, deliberation, interest, etc” But there is no meaning for it.
What classifies a word as a word? Does it’s popularity in speech make it a word? Or are there other rules that stipulate what is and isn’t a word?

I didn’t realise I was so practiced in using the word um until I recently heard myself speak on a recording. Every second word was um. I wanted to hit recorded me over the head for being so badly spoken and not knowing what I wanted to say before saying it. That’s the beauty of writing. You don’t put um in writing because there are the great inventions of the backspace key, eraser and scribble. You can just delete what you said, or deliberate over what you want to say, before you actually communicate with a second party.

That being said, “um” is kind of a great thing. It makes you sound like you are saying something (filling in awkward silences, so to speak) without you actually saying anything. Um doesn’t have to be short, either. You can extend it to ridiculous lengths for really long silences – uuuuuuuuuuummm.

In a way, too, “like” has become the new “um”. Somehow, though, I find “like” more annoying. It could be because “like” is supposed to be used in different contexts. Unfortunately, again, I say the occasional “um”-“like”; I am ashamed.

I find it interesting that speech fads exist. I notice it more in teenagers. Some terms don’t stick (as Gretchen Wieners of Mean Girls found out when she tried to get “Fetch” to happen), but others really do.

I don’t know if it is just me that does this, but I have a tendency to pick up speech conventions and phrases from the people I spend my time around. More often than not, I can recognise who my mannerisms came from. It kind of disturbs me because I start wondering whether any elements of the way that I talk are actually my own. It’s bizarre.

But is everybody’s speech that way? Is the way that we talk just an amalgam of everyone who has ever spoken to us? That would be a pretty cool concept. Your speech would be one large log book of every account of conversations you have had. It’s a shame, in most cases, we cannot tell who left their signature in the book. Their signatures would get smudged and overwritten over time.

Um seems to ‘ve in everyone’s vocabulary. Who was the first person to utter the word “um”? We need to have a chat. We really do. Because they have a lot of explaining to do.

Sorry! No fiction component this week! Next week, for sure!

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