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Is there a word for saying "um" or "uh", etc, during speaking? Or a word for "um" and "uh", etc?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

They are called conversation fillers.

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1  
They are also referred to as fillers or filler words. –  Zoot Jul 14 '11 at 14:48

Ahem, I would say exclamations.

The Oxford English Dictionary agrees:

um |(ə)m| exclamation expressing hesitation or a pause in speech : anyway, um, where was I?

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Can you quote the relevant part from your OED? I don't have one handy. –  MrHen Jul 14 '11 at 14:22
    
@MrHen It classifies them under the same lexical category—exclamations or interjections, if you want. Example: um |(ə)m| exclamation expressing hesitation or a pause in speech : anyway, um, where was I? –  Harold Cavendish Jul 14 '11 at 14:38
    
I added the example to your answer. Thanks! –  MrHen Jul 14 '11 at 14:44
    
@MrHen I should have thought of that, thank you. –  Harold Cavendish Jul 14 '11 at 14:45

The word for sounds made that are not communicative, such as "er", "uh", "um", etc, and also for interruptions in speech, are generally called "nonfluencies". They indicate the person is thinking of what they will say next, either calling attention to their next statement, or if overused, indicating the speaker is not comfortable with the language they are using, or with speaking in general.

The Toastmasters groups in the U.S. ring a bell (ding) every time a nonfluency is heard from a speaker practicing at a meeting. It's distracting, and meant both to point out the nonfluency and throw the speaker off their game, possibly resulting in more. The idea is that nonfluencies imply unpreparedness and nervousness, which the groups members are there to train out of themselves to improve their public speaking.

However, some studies have shown that speech with no nonfluencies is actually paid less attention to by the listener than speech with a few "natural" nonfluencies. A person who starts an answer to a question with a short "uh" or "er" calls attention to the fact they are about to speak, heightening the listener's attention.

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You might not find a single-word for verbal pauses.

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I think you'll find that "umming and ahing" is in most dictionaries as a phrasal verb.

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Isn't it usually "hemming and hawing", though? –  Marthaª Jul 14 '11 at 13:27
    
Both variants get lots of hits from on-line dictionaries -- which is not surprising, because it's an extremely common thing, so there should be at least two ways of expressing it. –  Mark Wallace Jul 14 '11 at 13:48
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@Martha: According to the dictionary, and to my experience, "hemming and hawing" is a specific use of "ummm" etc. It means trying to be evasive and not get to the point. That's not what I'm referring to. –  Daniel Jul 14 '11 at 14:22
    
@Martha: I first heard hemming and hawing from an American, so it could be an AmE vs BrE distinction –  Matt Эллен Jul 14 '11 at 14:32

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