LINGUIST List 15.24

Mon Jan 12 2004

Media: NYT: Just Like, Er, Words, Not, Um, Throwaways

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <>


  1. erard, Media: Ums and Uhs in New York Times

Message 1: Media: Ums and Uhs in New York Times

Date: Mon, 5 Jan 2004 08:18:23 -0600
From: erard <>
Subject: Media: Ums and Uhs in New York Times

My article on "um" and "uh" and other filled pauses appeared in the
Saturday, Jan. 3, 2003 New York Times' Arts & Ideas section. It
describes contemporary research into these words by psycholinguists
and draws a little of the history of the study of disfluency.

It begins:

If you were hearing this instead of reading it, you might notice a
pause here and there tucked between the phrases, filled with a
familiar, soft hum or rumble - an um or uh.

Though a bane to teachers of public speaking, people around the world
fill pauses in their own languages as naturally as watermelons have
seeds. In Britain they say uh but spell it er, just as they pronounce
er in butter.

The French say something that sounds like euh, and Hebrew speakers say
ehhh. Serbs and Croats say ovay, and the Turks say mmmmm. The Japanese
say eto (eh-to) and ano (ah-no), the Spanish este, and Mandarin
speakers neige (NEH-guh) and jiege (JEH-guh). In Dutch and German you
can say uh, um, mmm. In Swedish it's eh, ah, aah, m, mm, hmm, ooh, a
and oh; in Norwegian, e, eh, m and hm.

You can read the rest at:

Michael Erard

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