I've watched two interviews. One with Grace Park, one with Eliza Dushku.

What one can't miss is that Eliza uses an awful lot of garbage words (or what these are called) — um, so, like, you know, actually, I guess, I mean, kind of... — whereas Grace doesn't use them much.

YouTube links:

My questions are:

  1. What is more common to hear in US "on the street" (not on TV)?
  2. Does it affect the way the speaker is being considered by audience? (Like, speaking fluently without garbage words → smarter?)
  3. Does this differ geographically?
  4. What are these words called?

4 Answers 4


The Garbage Words you talk of are a mixture of Discourse Markers and fillers.

Discourse Markers, like 'well', 'you know', 'I mean' are words we use in speech to separate different pieces of information. They are not really necessary for understanding but they do provide the speaker with a moment to collect his/her thoughts and organise them.

Fillers, like 'umm', 'err', 'ahh, are utterances that, as the name suggests, fill in gaps while the speaker thinks of what to say next or organise his/her thoughts. Unlike Discourse Markers, Fillers do not have any semantic quality.

Neither of these are essential for communication - note that they would not be included in written language - and do more for the speaker than the listener. In fact, a person who uses them extensively would very likely be subject to some negative assumption about intelligence or education - professional speakers often take courses to reduce their usage of fillers and vague discourse markers.

They are best avoided both to improve the speaker's image and to maximise the strength of the speech. If one is trying to be persuasive, he will not be as successful if the ideas are heavily punctuated with fillers and discourse markers as it sounds weaker and less confident; a well rehearsed and concisely delivered speech represents confidence and belief in the speaker's own words. Without that, the audience will doubt the speaker.

Hope that helps.

  • 7
    They also sometimes serve the purpose of "holding the floor", i.e. discouraging interruption because "I'm still speakingt".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 11:59
  • 2
    While you are ... uhhm ... correct - using fillers conciously can sometimes introduce irony/sarcasm/scepticism and other semantical ...ehm... coloring. (just joking ;-) ) Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 2:54

They are not garbage words.

They are called discourse markers (if I'm not mistaken) and even if sometimes saying "uhm", "I mean", "you know", is not very good (E.G. during a job interview), they help the conversation to stay stable and avoid awkward silence.

You can hear them everywhere, TV, Radio, in the street. In formal situations, like I said, they must be reduced, but usually they are not wrong or bad, actually they are useful.

If they didn't exist, you'd talk like a robot, basically.

  • 2
    Do articulate people sound like robots? I've often admired the speech of Bender but he may have used a few fillers on occasion. Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 13:33
  • What is meant by articulate people?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 18:00
  • 1
    "Articulate - Adjective: having or showing the ability to speak fluently and coherently". When I hear an interview on radio or TV where the interviewee is able to communicate their ideas clearly and without fillers, I admire their articulacy. Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 13:35
  • Ah I got what you mean. Yeah, I agree too with that. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 17:26
  • 1
    @RedGrittyBrick: You personally may disapprove of "discourse markers", but (as with swear words)whether people use them or not has no real bearing on whether they are articulate. Commented Jul 31, 2011 at 15:25

Differentiated, presumably, from extremes of Valley Girl Speak - "It was like, you know, and she was like all, 'Duude!', ya know?" in which the success of the communication becomes entirely dependent on something other than, and certainly beyond, the mere words themselves.


This quotation seems appropriate:


One of the more distracting patterns of speech is the use of fillers, unnecessary words or phrases that are repeatedly interjected into a message. Expressions such as “uh,” “um,” “you know,” “basically,” and “it’s kind a like” add no meaning. Fillers interrupt the continuity of communication. They signal uncertainty or nervousness on the part of a speaker who tries (often unconsciously) to fill up every silence with sound. The speech pattern of voicing fillers can be overcome by practicing the techniques listed below. Speak in shorter sentences. Avoid run-on sentences that string together several phrases joined by conjunctions. Speakers who make excessive use of conjunctions are more likely to develop a habit of attaching a filler to every conjunction, as in “and um” or “but uh.” Concentrate on bringing each sentence to an end (period). Pause to breathe. Prepare. Know the message so well that the material comes to mind quickly and easily. Frequently, fillers are an attempt to “fill in” a gap between one idea and the next. A well-prepared speaker is less likely to experience mental gaps. Practice alternate words and phrases that can be used in place of fillers, such as “in addition,” “on that point,” and “however.” A speech pattern similar to the use of fillers is the repeated use of superlatives: exaggerated expressions such as “awfully,” “enormously,” “terrific,” “amazing,” and “awesome.” Rather than adding meaning to a message, the frequent injection of superlatives can be distracting and may detract from the speaker’s credibility.

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